Consumer spending, inflation cool in December, as sentiment perks up
U.S. GDP rose 2.9% in the fourth quarter of 2022.
U.S. GDP rose 2.9% in the fourth quarter of 2022.
While there are plenty of gloomy economic forecasts floating around, data paints a mixed picture of the U.S. consumer economy as 2023 gets underway.
Inflation is cooling off, but consumer spending is pulling back, a key report from December shows. Meanwhile, consumer sentiment is improving and the economy is showing signs of growth, but plenty of uncertainty remains.
Here’s the data that was released this week:
Consumer spendingfell 0.2% in December, as shoppers spent less on goods, even as they spent more on services, according to the Personal Consumption Expenditures data report issued Friday.
There are signs that the fall may be driven by inflation. A primary of the goods decrease was gasoline, where prices are coming down. Housing, where inflation is going up, was a driver of the increase in services. Yet the decreases in goods were “widespread,” the U.S. Bureau of Economic Indicators noted.
The PCE’s measure of Inflation increased 0.1% from November, marking the second straight month of slower growth after months of higher prices.
The annual inflation increase also slowed to 5%, down from 5.5% the month prior. PCE inflation, which is the pricing measure preferred by the Fed, is continuing to fall in a similar fashion to the more widely-used Consumer Price Index.
Core inflation, which is the inflation measure that leaves out the more volatile food and energy categories, slowed to 4.4%. That was its lowest level since October 2021.
The report offers a textbook look at how the Federal Reserve’s monthslong campaign to hike interest rates are playing out across the economy. The Fed’s main goal is to cool inflation, and prices are coming down. However, the Fed’s monetary policy tools also have the side effect of cooling demand, which leads to a decrease in consumer spending that is also evident.
The report comes days before the Fed will consider a further interest rate hike next week. Officials have signaled that they will continue the increases to fight inflation, but will consider whether to keep scaling back the size of the rate hike. The 0.5% increase in December was smaller than the 0.75% increases delivered at the four prior meetings.
The pullback in consumer spending was also evident among consumer goods companies that issued earnings reports this week.
3M, which makes Post-it notes, said organic sales fell 5.7% for the year.
“The slower-than-expected growth was due to rapid declines in consumer-facing markets, such as consumer electronics and retail, a dynamic that accelerated in December, as consumers sharply cut discretionary spending and retailers adjusted inventory levels,” said CEO Mike Roman.
U.S. GDP: 2019-2022 (US Bureau of Economic Analysis)
The Fed’s moves bring with them the risk that the economy could tip into recession if demand cools off too much. Yet the overall economic data for the fourth quarter signaled to the positive.
Gross domestic product, which is a broad-based measure of economic activity, rose 2.9% in Q4 from the prior quarter, the BEA reported on Thursday.
Consumer spending, which is about two-thirds of GDP, was a key driver of the increase, as it rose 2.1%. Notably, spending on goods was up by 1.1% in the holiday quarter after three straight quarters of decline.
“We continue to see consumption as having tailwinds from tight labor markets, high levels of excess saving, and falling gasoline prices, among other factors,” Bank of America Economist Michael Gapen wrote in a research note.
The report also points at another trend of 2022: People returned to spending on experiences and services as pandemic restrictions were lifted. However, that may be cycling out. The increase in goods spending and a corresponding slowdown in services “suggests the rotation of household spending back toward services may be nearing its end, though we hesitate to say it is completed,” Gapen wrote.
It marked a second straight quarter of economic growth to end 2022, showing that the economy turned around from two straight quarters of decline to begin the year.
Inflation also cooled for the quarter. The PCE Price Index rose 3.2% for the quarter, compared with an increase of 4.3% in the third quarter.
U.S. consumer sentiment, 2013-2023
U.S. consumer sentiment rose 9% in January from the prior month, continuing a climb of the doldrums that reached historic lows at inflation’s height over the summer, according to the University of Michigan.
In particular, consumers’ view of current economic conditions rose 15%. With strong incomes in a tight job market and falling prices as inflation cools, people feel better about their finances and would be more likely to make bigger purchases, UM wrote.
People are also looking for inflation to continue to cool. The year-ahead inflation expectation of 3.9% was the lowest level since April 2021. Yet declines should be viewed as “tentative,” since uncertainty remains, UM said.
While sentiment is improving, it is still at historic lows. Economic volatility remains, so the good signals shouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as outright optimism.
“There are considerable downside risks to sentiment, with two-thirds of consumers expecting an economic downturn during the next year,” wrote University of Michigan Survey of Consumers Director Joanne Hsu. “Notably, the debt ceiling debate looms ahead and could reverse the gains seen over the last several months.”
Dealboard has funding and M&A updates from ecommerce aggregators and forecasting software.
This week, the aggregator space is active with M&A, IKEA is ready to roll out newly-purchased warehouse management software and Authentic Brands Group acquired a boot icon. Plus, there’s new investment to report for YouTube influencer Emma Chamberlain’s coffee brand and retail forecasting.
Here’s a look at the latest deals:
Chamberlain Coffee, the consumer brand founded by YouTube influencer Emma Chamberlain, raised $7 million in new funding.
The financing included backing from existing investors including Blazar Capital, Chamberlain and United Talent Agency. New investors include Volition Capital, Electric Feel Ventures, L.A. Libations and Noah Bremen, founder of PLTFRM.
The new funding follows the launch of a Ready-to-Drink (RTD) product and coffee pods. Previously, the brand raised a Series A in August 2022.
"Creating a uniquely inviting coffee brand has been my dream for so long now, and having key investors back us allows us to build Chamberlain Coffee in ways that feel fresh and exciting,” said Chamberlain, in a statement. “There are so many products I am eager to develop and projects I'm excited to get working on. With such an incredible team and group of investors I am more excited than ever to see what the future holds for Chamberlain Coffee."
Impact Analytics, a software company for retail supply chain and merchandise planning, raised new funding from Vistara Growth.
The new investment, the amount of which was not disclosed, comes after Impact raised funding in February 2021 and October 2022 from Argentum.
The funding will help Impact Analytics further develop its Impact Analytics SmartSuite product portfolio, which is designed to help optimize forecasting, merchandising and end-to-end lifecycle pricing. Rather than the traditional forecasting approach of basing decisions on the preceding year, Impact Analytics applies a model that includes 150 variables from internal and external sources, while combining recency and history. Clients include BJ's Wholesale Club, Dick's Sporting Goods, Puma and Tapestry.
Selva Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on consumer brands that promote healthier living, closed its second fund at $34 million, TechCrunch reported.
With the new funding, Selva will invest in brands across categories including health, wellness, beauty and personal care. The fund expects to write checks of $1-2 million in seed and Series A startups, while assisting in areas like finance, operations and retail partnerships.
Backers of the second fund include Unilever Ventures, PagsGroup and Obelysk.
Nautica and Forever 21 owner Authentic Brands Group acquired the intellectual property of Hunter, a 160-year-old British outdoor lifestyle brand known for its Wellington boots.
With the deal, ABG appointed longtime partners Batra Group and Marc Fisher to execute retail and ecommerce operations, as well as continue to expand the brand in the UK and U.S., respectively.
“At the intersection of fashion and outdoor, Hunter introduces another elevated global brand to Authentic’s diverse Lifestyle portfolio,” said Authentic CEO Jamie Salter, in a statement.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The investment arm of IKEA parent Ingka Group acquired the warehouse management software platform Made4Net.
As a result of the deal, Made4Net’s software will be deployed across IKEA’s 482 stores and fulfillment centers. Made4Net will continue to operate as an independent subsidiary of Ingka, with a headquarters in New Jersey. CEO Duff Davidson will remain at the helm of the company.
“Our business currently requires a better fulfillment operations system with more accurate data that better supports handling for our customers,” said Tolga Öncu, head of retail at Ingka Group, in a statement. “Our goal is to become leaders of life at home, serving more people in an omnichannel reality, whenever and however customers choose to meet us.”
European ecommerce aggregator SellerX acquired Elevate Brands, a U.S.-based aggregator.
The combined companies will be known as SellerX Group. It will comprise a portfolio that includes 80 Amazon-native private label consumer brands in categories including sports and outdoors, home, mobile accessories, pets and consumables. The portfolio will span over 40,000 products.
With the deal, SellerX Co-CEOs Philipp Triebel and Malte Horeyseck will lead SellerX Group, while Elevate Brands cofounders Ryan Gnesin, Jeremy Bell and Robert Bell will remain in key leadership positions.
“This acquisition combines our know-how and diversified portfolios of strong brands with a market-leading technology platform and strong operational infrastructure,” said Triebel, in a statement. “By leveraging our combined strengths, I am convinced we are well-positioned to drive further consolidation in the industry.”
Ecommerce aggregator Society Brands acquired Wolf Tactical, a tactical gear company.
Founded in 2017 by Tim Wu, Wolf Tactical makes products including DC belts, range belts to weighted vest and tactical backpacks.
"I started Wolf Tactical by myself as a side hustle with very limited knowledge of business and entrepreneurship. A combination of hard work and relentless learning allowed me to build it into a multi-million-dollar business," said Wu who will remain as brand president, in a statement. "With the help of Society Brands, I have access to untapped potential that I would not be able to achieve by myself.”