WASHINGTON – Hopes are rising that consumers will drive stronger growth in 2014 after they stepped up spending at the end of last year in the United States and Europe.
The outlook for spending is brightening even though growth is weakening in some large emerging economies and slowing the sales of consumer product giants such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble.
Several trends are boosting consumer spending in developed countries: Inflation is low, enabling shoppers to stretch their dollars, euros and yen. The Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and other central banks are keeping interest rates super-low. Those low rates have made it easier for borrowers to afford higher-cost items such as cars and appliances.
Global retail sales growth jumped to a 5.4 percent annual pace in the three months through November, according to economists at JPMorgan Chase. And global auto sales reached an all-time high in December, the bank said.
It was a year of big improvement in consumer spending after two years of very weak growth, said David Hensley, a global economist at JPMorgan Chase. Businesses were pleasantly surprised by the increase in consumption.
Even in Europe, where growth remains slow after the region emerged from its longest-ever recession last year, consumers appear willing to spend more. Retail sales spiked 1.4 percent in November, the biggest increase in 12 years.
In the United States, Morgan Stanley economists forecast that consumer spending rose in the final three months of the year at its fastest pace in three years.
With more consumers willing to open their wallets, businesses will also likely start spending more on machinery, computers and other equipment, Hensley said, providing an additional spark to growth.
Consumer-product companies have invested heavily in emerging markets as growth in developed markets slowed. But this year, growth will likely pick up in developed markets and slow in emerging countries.
Procter & Gamble has been implementing a $10 billion cost-cutting program and trying to adjust its prices to stay competitive. In its most recent quarter, it held or expanded its market share in two-thirds of its product categories globally and two-thirds to 70 percent of categories in North America.
Cincinnati-based P&G will report its fiscal second-quarter results Friday. Analysts expect net income of $1.20 a share, slightly below last years $1.22.
Revenue is forecast to come in at $22.36 billion, up slightly from $22.18 billion a year ago.