US: Consumer Sentiment

Fri Nov 13 09:00:00 CST 2015

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous
Sentiment Index - Level 92.0 89.0 to 94.0 93.1 90.0

Consumer sentiment is moving sharply higher this month, to 93.1 for the mid-month flash in the highest reading since July. Expectations are especially showing life, up 3.5 points to 85.6 which is the best since June. Strength in expectations points to confidence in the outlook for the jobs market and, to a lesser degree, for the stock market as well. The assessment of current conditions is also higher, at 104.8 for a 2.5 point gain and pointing to strength in the current jobs market.

Inflation expectations are moving lower, at least for the 1-year outlook which is down a steep 2 tenths to 2.5 percent. This reading is a reminder of how weak inflation reports are coming in, including today's data on producer prices. But longer term expectations are stable, unchanged and also at 2.5 percent for the 5-year outlook.

Rising confidence hints perhaps at a pick up for retail sales in the key month of November, a back-loaded month that kicks off the holidays after Thanksgiving.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
Consumer sentiment has been solid this year but has been trending lower from a January peak near 100. But the Econoday consensus for the preliminary November reading is 92.0 for what would be a solid 2.0 point gain from October. Gains in this report would underscore the strength of the jobs market.

The University of Michigan's Consumer Survey Center questions 500 households each month on their financial conditions and attitudes about the economy. Consumer sentiment is directly related to the strength of consumer spending. Consumer confidence and consumer sentiment are two ways of talking about consumer attitudes. Among economic reports, consumer sentiment refers to the Michigan survey while consumer confidence refers to The Conference Board's survey. Preliminary estimates for a month are released at mid-month. Final estimates for a month are released near the end of the month.

The pattern in consumer attitudes and spending is often the foremost influence on stock and bond markets. For stocks, strong economic growth translates to healthy corporate profits and higher stock prices. For bonds, the focus is whether economic growth goes overboard and leads to inflation. Ideally, the economy walks that fine line between strong growth and excessive (inflationary) growth. This balance was achieved through much of the nineties. For this reason alone, investors in the stock and bond markets enjoyed huge gains during the bull market of the 1990s. Consumer confidence did shift down in tandem with the equity market between 2000 and 2002 and then recovered in 2003 and 2004. More recently, the credit crunch and surge in gasoline prices led confidence downward in 2007. Despite a drop in gasoline prices, 2008 saw sentiment near record lows due to recession, a precipitous fall in stock prices, and fragile credit markets. However, consumer sentiment helped to confirm the easing of recession during 2009 as this index slowly rose from earlier lows. One should be aware that this report is released to private subscribers several minutes prior to release to the media. This may account for occasional market activity just prior to public release.

Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy, so the markets are always dying to know what consumers are up to and how they might behave in the near future. The more confident consumers are about the economy and their own personal finances, the more likely they are to spend. With this in mind, it's easy to see how this index of consumer attitudes gives insight to the direction of the economy. Just note that changes in consumer confidence and retail sales don't move in tandem month by month.