A:

The consumer goods sector includes a wide range of retail products purchased by consumers, from staples such as food and clothing to luxury items such as jewelry and electronics. While overall demand for food is not likely to fluctuate wildly—although the specific foods consumers purchase can vary significantly under different economic conditions—the level of consumer spending on more optional purchases, such as automobiles and electronics, varies greatly depending on a number of economic factors. The economic factors that most affect the demand for consumer goods are employment, wages, prices/inflation, interest rates and consumer confidence.

How Employment and Wages Affect Consumer Goods Demand

One of the main factors influencing demand for consumer goods is the level of employment. The more people there are receiving a steady income and expecting to continue receiving one, the more people there are to make discretionary spending purchases. Therefore, the monthly unemployment rate report is one economic leading indicator that gives clues to demand for consumer goods.

The level of wages also affects consumer spending. If wages are steadily rising, consumers generally have more discretionary income to spend. If wages are stagnant or falling, demand for optional consumer goods is likely to fall. Median income is one of the best indicators of the condition of wages for American workers. (For related reading, see: What Is the Average Income in the U.S.?)

Prices and Interest Rates

Prices, affected by the rate of inflation, naturally impact consumer spending on goods significantly. This is one reason the producer price index (PPI) and the consumer price index (CPI) are considered leading economic indicators. Higher inflation rates erode purchasing power, making it less likely that consumers have excess income to spend after covering basic expenses such as food and housing. Higher price tags on consumer goods also deter spending.

Interest rates can also impact the level of spending on consumer goods substantially. Many higher-end consumer goods, such as automobiles or jewelry, are often purchased by consumers on credit. Higher interest rates make such purchases substantially more expensive and therefore deter these expenditures. Higher interest rates generally mean tighter credit as well, making it more difficult for consumers to obtain the necessary financing for major purchases such as new cars. Consumers often postpone purchasing luxury items until more favorable credit terms are available.

Consumer Confidence

Consumer confidence is another important factor affecting the demand for consumer goods. Regardless of their current financial situation, consumers are more likely to purchase greater amounts of consumer goods when they feel confident about both the overall condition of the economy and about their personal financial future. High levels of consumer confidence can especially affect consumers' inclination to make major purchases and to use credit to make purchases.

Overall, demand for consumer goods increases when the economy producing the goods is growing. An economy showing good overall growth and continuing prospects for steady growth is usually accompanied by corresponding growth in the demand for goods and services.

(For related reading, see: What factors affect the performance of the consumer packaged goods industry?)

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