WASHINGTON — U.S. consumers cut back on spending last month for the first time in a year, taking an unexpected pause after a big jump in March. The results, however, are unlikely to derail an expected spring rebound in the economy.
Consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of overall economic activity, fell 0.1 percent in April, the Commerce Department said Friday. The drop was the first in 12 months. But it followed a 1 percent surge in spending in March, which marked the biggest increase in more than four years.
"It is obvious that after an unseasonably colder January and February, consumers came out with a vengeance in March," Chris Christopher, an economist at IHS Global Insight, said in a note to clients. "So, April's poor showing on the spending front is payback for a strong March."
The latest figure reflects reductions in durable goods purchases such as autos and in services such as heating bills. While disappointed, analysts said the results don't change the broader upward trajectory of the economy, and they predicted consumer demand will bounce back in May.
An "improving job market should support stronger spending in coming months," Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a research note.
Friday's government report also showed that income rose 0.3 percent in April after advancing 0.5 percent in March. That marks the fourth consecutive monthly climb. The economy has been generating jobs at a solid pace in recent months, including a gain of 288,000 jobs in April, the strongest uptick in hiring in two years.
With spending down and Americans earning more, the saving rate rose in April to 4 percent of after-tax income, up from a saving rate of 3.6 percent in March.
Inflation, as measured by a gauge tied to spending, showed prices rising 1.6 percent from a year ago, up from a 1.1 percent year-over-year price gain in March. However, even with the increase, inflation remains below the Federal Reserve's 2 percent target.
Consumer spending remained strong through the first quarter, rising at an annual rate of 3.1 percent. But much of that strength came from increased health care spending, reflecting new enrollments through the Affordable Care Act.