Consumers’ resilience is a mixed blessing for officials at the Federal Reserve, who worry that robust spending is contributing to inflation, but who also don’t want it to slow so rapidly that the economy falls into a recession. The gradual slowdown in spending seen in recent months is broadly consistent with the “soft landing” scenario that policymakers are aiming for, but they have been wary of declaring victory too soon — a concern that April’s data, which showed persistent inflation alongside stronger spending, could underscore.
“The odds of a recession dropped again,” wrote Robert Frick, corporate economist with Navy Federal Credit Union, in a note to clients on Friday. “The one problem from the report is inflation remains stubbornly high, and may tempt the Fed to raise the federal funds rate even more, when a pause was on the table,” he added, referring to the upcoming meeting of policymakers in June.
It is unclear how long consumers can continue to prop up the economic recovery. Savings that some households built up in the pandemic have begun to dwindle, and there are signs companies are beginning to pull back on hiring. The standoff over the debt limit could further sap the economy’s momentum, although there were signs on Thursday evening that leaders in Washington were closing in on a deal to avert a default.