US consumer spending records biggest gain in five months

WASHINGTON, May 31 (Reuters) - U.S. consumer spending increased more than expected in April, a further sign that economic growth was regaining momentum early in the second quarter, while inflation continued to rise steadily.

The Commerce Department said on Thursday that consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, jumped 0.6 percent last month, the biggest gain in five months. Data for March was revised up to show spending rising 0.5 percent instead of the previously reported 0.4 percent increase.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast consumer spending advancing 0.4 percent. Spendingwas boosted by purchases of gasoline and other energy products. Nondurable goods purchases increased 0.9 percent. Outlays on services rose 0.5 percent, lifted by demand for household utilities.

Prices continued to gradually rise. The personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding the volatile food and energy components increased 0.2 percent for the third straight month.

That left the year-on-year increase in the so-called core PCE price index at 1.8 percent. The core PCE index is the Federal Reserve's preferred inflation measure. The U.S. central bank has a 2 percent inflation target.

Economists expect the annual core PCE price index will breach the Fed's target in the coming months. The Fed is expected to raise interest rates next month. It increased borrowing costs in March and has forecast at least two more rate hikes for this year.

The moderate inflation also helped support consumer spending last month. When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending rose 0.4 percent in April after increasing 0.5 percent in the prior month. That suggests an acceleration in consumer spending after it grew at a 1.0 percent annualized rate in the first quarter, the slowest pace in nearly five years.

The solid consumer spending added to data on trade and industrial production that have left economists anticipating a pickup in economic growth in the second quarter. Gross domestic product estimates for the April-June period are above a 3.0 percent rate. The economy grew at a 2.2 percent pace in the first quarter.

In April, personal income rose 0.3 percent after rising 0.2 percent in March. Wages increased 0.4 percent. Savings fell to $419.6 billion last month from $445.7 billion in March. The saving rate dropped to 2.8 percent from 3.0 percent in March.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani Editing by Paul Simao)