Income Off, Spending Up in November : Economy: But the Commerce Department says a large percentage of the rise in consumer outlay is for a cold-weather necessity--utilities.

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From Reuters

Americans’ incomes shrank last month as layoffs mounted, but rising expenses pushed up spending and curtailed savings, the Commerce Department reported Monday.

Personal income fell 0.1% from October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $4.88 trillion--the first time income has dropped since July, when it fell 0.3%.

Consumer spending rose a surprising 0.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $3.95 trillion. It is closely monitored as a possible source of growth since consumers fuel two-thirds of economic activity.


But Richard Berner, an economist for Salomon Bros. Inc. in New York, said much of the increase was a result of cold weather that pushed up spending on utilities such as gas and electricity.

Excluding utility spending, consumption rose only 0.4% in November.

“It’s not a strong picture,” Berner said.

The White House, meanwhile, said there was room for even lower interest rates to stimulate the economy.

Asked at a briefing whether the Federal Reserve Board’s discount rate cut Friday was sufficient to stimulate the economy, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, “We would leave it to the Fed to make a judgment.

“But we think they are on the right track . . . We believe there is room for declining interest rates. But we won’t try to dictate that at this point.”

Fitzwater said the drop in personal income reflected the economy’s problems.

The Commerce Department report showed that savings suffered in November, with the seasonally adjusted annual rate of money put aside dipping to $200.1 billion from $232.6 billion in October and $216 billion in September.

One of the reasons that economists fear that the nation is headed back into recession is consumer anxiety about their jobs in the face of rising layoffs. The most stunning announcement came last week when General Motors Corp. said it was closing 21 plants and slashing 74,000 jobs over the next four years.


But Gordon Richards, an economist with the National Assn. of Manufacturers, said more than simply negative psychology was at work in retarding the economy’s struggle out of recession. “Rather, it is bound up with real economic conditions--slow real-income gains and weak balance sheets,” he said.

Not only weak growth in job opportunities and wages are at play, he said. High indebtedness and declines in the value of homes are also factors.

“The reality is that consumers are overspending--personal consumption expenditures are growing much faster than real disposable incomes,” Richards said.

Commerce Department officials estimated that spending on utilities jumped in November at an annual rate of $6.7 billion, while medical care costs went up $6 billion.

Overall, spending on services in November increased $19 billion to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $2.25 trillion. By contrast, spending on long-lasting durable goods was up just $2 billion to $451 billion, and expenditures for non-durables gained $4 billion to $1.3 trillion.

Income Falls. Personal income in trillions of dollars, seasonally adjusted annual rate Nov., ‘91: 4.88 Oct., ‘91: 4.89 Nov., ‘90: 4.76


Spending Rises Personal income in trillions of dollars, seasonally adjusted annual rate Nov., ‘91: 3.95 Oct., ‘91: 3.93 Nov., ‘90: 3.81 Source: Commerce Department