US personal consumption up 0.3 pct in Nov, BEA data shows

Shoppers at a Target store in Chicago.
Jim Young | Reuters
Shoppers at a Target store in Chicago.

U.S. consumer spending picked up in November as households loosened their purse strings at the start of the holiday shopping season, boosting prospects for fourth quarter economic growth.

Spending rose by 0.3 percent last month after holding steady in October, according to data inadvertently released late on Tuesday by the Commerce Department.

The release of the figures more than 12 hours ahead of schedule by the department's Bureau of Economic Analysis marked a rare instance of market-sensitive government economic data becoming public early. The government places strict controls on the release of economic data, which can influence a broad array of asset prices.

"There has been an inadvertent release of some of BEA's personal consumption expenditure data for November as well as for previous months," the BEA said in a statement.

"BEA will take steps to ensure that this does not happen again and will take all appropriate action to safeguard economic data," it said.

The agency did not explain how the release occurred, and a spokeswoman had no further comment. The data was scheduled for release at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, along with other figures on personal income and inflation that BEA said would be released as scheduled.

The November rise in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was a welcome sign for an economy that had down shifted in the third quarter.

The increase was in line with economists' expectations, and while the October reading was revised downward from a previously reported 0.1 percent gain, spending in September was a bit stronger than earlier reported.

The rebound in consumer spending in November was probably kept in check by unseasonably mild weather, which had caused a sharp drop in demand for utilities.

But a tightening labor market has started to lift wages, underpinning spending.

In November, spending strengthened across the board, with outlays on long-lasting durable goods, non-durable items and services all rising.

Spending on pricey durable products, such as cars and washing machines, that are meant to last three years or more rose a healthy 0.7 percent in November. Services spending, which has been lifted by rising health care costs, rose 0.2 percent.

While consumer spending is likely running below the third-quarter's annualized brisk pace of 3.0 percent, November's increase could prompt economists to modestly lift their fourth-quarter gross domestic product estimates. Growth estimates for the final three months of the year have been hovering around a 2 percent rate, the same pace as growth in the third quarter.