Consumer spending increases during the holidays

They bought books and coats, fancy dinners and plane tickets. As 2023 winds down, holiday shoppers provided another sign that the U.S. economy will roar into the new year.

On Tuesday, new retail sales data from MasterCard showed that customers spent more on gifts, food and clothing in November and December. Although inflation persists. Add in strong consumer confidence, the S&P 500 is nearing all-time highs, and it's clear that the U.S. economy is in a much better place than anyone expected, erasing any hint of a recession and bolstering confidence that people will continue to work. their wallets in 2024.

„The significant improvement in holiday sales over the past two years and the ongoing pressures on consumer finances could make this level of growth a win for consumers,” said Neil Sanders, managing director of retail at Global Data.

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U.S. retail sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 rose 3.1 percent compared to the same period a year ago, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse. Online shopping accounted for a large share of the increase, rising 6.3 percent, compared to a 2.2 percent rise for in-person shopping. Apparel sales rose 2.4 percent. Further, Strong demand for individual meals driving a 7.8 percent rise in restaurant spending.

Some categories showed declines: for example, jewelry sales fell 2 percent, while electronics fell 0.4 percent. (The overall report excludes car sales and does not control for inflation.)

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The cheery holiday report was expected after a strong summer and third quarter, when the economy grew like gangbusters. Black Friday sales hit a record $9.8 billion, up 7.5 percent from last year. Cyber ​​Monday came in even higher at $12.4 billion, according to Adobe Analytics.

Spending on concerts, airline tickets and movies this year has been strong in the face of higher-than-normal inflation, all of which the Federal Reserve has said has slowed the economy. This year central bankers raised borrowing costs, making it prohibitively expensive for many to buy homes or cars or get new loans for businesses. The goal is to rein in consumer demand, reduce inflation to a modest 2 percent and stabilize the economy after the outbreak of the pandemic.

Everyone expected a recession. The Fed and the White House found a way.

By several measures, the central bank's struggle is working. Using the central bank's preferred measure, inflation eased to 2.6 percent in November from a year earlier. The job market is still growing, but at a more steady pace. For the first time since the early days of the pandemic, central bankers are eyeing interest rate cuts, a clear signal that officials think they can take their foot off the brake. And may the economy continue to thrive.

„The MasterCard spending data bodes well for the Federal Reserve,” said Joe Brusulas, chief economist at RSM, „as they look to cut rates to sustain the U.S. economic expansion.”

Fed officials would not give a clear timeline as to when They may switch to rate cuts in 2024. But financial markets didn't wait to celebrate, with the Dow Jones industrial average hitting an all-time high this month and the S&P 500 nearing its own record. Through it all, the central bank's message is measured but clear: the economy — driven by two-thirds of consumer spending — is in good shape.

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„We're obviously taking a hard look at what's going on with demand,” Fed President Jerome H. Powell said This month. „We're seeing the same thing that others are seeing, which is a strong economy that actually performed very well in 2023.”

Granted, not all Americans are part of that story, with gasoline, grocery and rental costs squeezing many people's budgets. Torsten Slok, partner and chief economist at Apollo, said it was looking closely at a myriad of factors that could put vulnerable families at even greater risk. These include excess savings that dry up and an increase in credit card delinquencies.

„Certainly a household group feels that interest rates have gone up,” Slok said. „Broadly speaking, it's younger households and households with lower FICO scores and lower savings.”

To provide some extra wiggle room, retailers started their promotions earlier this season, giving consumers time to hunt for better deals, said Saks Inc., a senior adviser to MasterCard. said Steve Sadow, former CEO of A lot of bang for your buck” and pre-pandemic spending trends have resurfaced.

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