Americans spent their hard-earned money a bit more cautiously in March while personal income rose by the most in three months, according to government data released Monday.
The Commerce Department said consumer spending rose 0.4 percent in March, after posting the biggest gain since August 2009 in February, as Americans purchased fewer motor vehicles. That's in line with the 0.4 percent gain economists polled by Reuters had expected. When adjusted for inflation, spending rose 0.1 percent.
February's spending was revised up to 0.9 percent from a previously reported 0.8 percent gain.
Americans' income rose 0.4 percent, exceeding February's pace, as well as economists' forecast for a 0.3 percent rise. After paying taxes and adjusting for inflation, incomes rose 0.2 percent in March.
A core inflation measure, the price index for personal consumption expenditure, increased 2.1 percent on a year-over-year basis in March. That's the lowest in a year, but still above the Federal Reserve's long-term annual inflation target of 2.0 percent.
On a monthly basis, the PCE price gauge rose 0.2 percent, following a 0.3 percent rise in February.
Consumer confidence rose to 76.4 in April, from 76.2 in March. This closely watch barometer has made a recovery since it fell to an all-time low of 25.3 in February 2009.
A separate report from the Labor Department is expected to show Friday that employment advanced by 175,000 in April after a disappointing 120,000 gain in the prior month, according to economists polled by Thomson Reuters. Unemployment rate probably held at 8.2 percent.
Households, whose spending accounts for about 70 percent of the world's largest economy, was discouraged by a softer employment reading in March.
The U.S. economy expanded at a slower-than-expected pace in the first quarter. Gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced, grew at a 2.2 percent annual pace after advancing 3 percent in the previous three months.
The Federal Reserve expects economic growth to remain moderate over coming quarters and then to pick up gradually, according to an April 25 statement, suggesting the recovery may still falter.
In describing the job market, Fed officials said the unemployment rate has declined but remains elevated.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke left open the possibility of further easing. We remain prepared to do more as needed to make sure that this recovery continues and that inflation stays close to target, he said at a news conference Wednesday following the FOMC meeting.
Fed officials reduced their forecast for unemployment after payroll gains averaged more than 200,000 a month during the first quarter, while affirming a plan to keep the benchmark lending rate around zero, at least through late 2014.
Policy makers forecast the unemployment rate would average 7.8 percent to 8 percent in the final three months of this year, compared with a forecast of 8.2 percent to 8.5 percent in January. The new forecasts, however, are still far above officials' estimates for full employment, which ranges from 4.9 percent to 6 percent.
Stock futures fell on the news. The S&P 500 lost 3.5 points, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average retreated 13 points.