Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank would be watching retail sales data, which came out Monday, for signs that American consumer spending bounced back from a surprisingly weak end to 2018.
“We’re, of course, watching that,” Powell said in an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes” broadcast Sunday. “The reason it’s a surprise is that we had lots of other reports of relatively healthy levels of spending over the holidays.”
The index dropped by 1.2 per cent on a monthly basis in December, a surprising move at a time when unemployment is low, wages are rising and consumers seem economically healthy. Economists in a Bloomberg survey expect the headline index to come in unchanged in January, though estimates range from another sizable contraction to a 1.4 per cent rebound.
The Fed seems to be leaning toward the latter projection.
“So we’ll be looking to see, there’s also evidence, by the way, that spending has popped back up in January,” Powell said in the interview, which CBS noted was conducted last Tuesday. “But that’s a surprisingly weak reading.”