US: Consumer Confidence

Tue Sep 26 09:00:00 CDT 2017

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous Revised
Consumer Confidence - Level 120.2 118.0 to 123.0 119.8 122.9 120.4

Weakness in the hurricane states of Texas and Florida pulled down consumer confidence to 119.8 in September, a level however that is still unusually strong. And strength is definitely the message from this report especially the assessment of the labor market as those saying jobs are currently hard to get keeps falling, down 3 tenths to 18.1 percent in a result that will firm expectations for next week's September employment report. The outlook for the future of the jobs market is no less favorable with those expecting more jobs to open up 6 months from now surging 2.7 percentage points to 19.5 percent.

Another reading of special note is income expectations which include the effects not only of the jobs market but also housing and the stock market. Here, the spread between optimists and pessimists keeps widening with those seeing gains at 20.5 percent vs 8.3 percent seeing declines. This is a very favorable reading pointing to fundamental confidence in the economy.

A positive in the report, but one that may prove temporary and tied to hurricane effects on gas prices, is a very large 4 tenths jump in inflation expectations to a 4.9 percent level that is, however, still soft for this particular reading. Clear weaknesses in the report includes downticks in buying plans for houses and autos.

But this report is about strength and despite the hurricane-related downtick in September, the data continue to speak to unusual demand in the labor market and the health of the consumer.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
The consumer confidence index, underpinned by unusually strong assessments of the labor market and income prospects, has well surpassed the consensus over the last three months, rising 2.3 points to 122.9 in August which next to 124.9 in March this year is the highest score since the dotcom days of December 2000. But the August results did not include the Texas effects of Hurricane Harvey at month-end nor Hurricane Irma's devastating Florida landfall in September. Yet forecasters aren't expecting much hurricane effect, calling for a modest retreat to 120.2 for September. The only negative in the report has been inflation expectations which have been extremely weak.

The Conference Board compiles a survey of consumer attitudes on the economy. The headline Consumer Confidence Index is based on consumers' perceptions of current business and employment conditions, as well as their expectations for six months hence regarding business conditions, employment, and income. Three thousand households across the country are surveyed each month. In general, while the level of consumer confidence is associated with consumer spending, the two do not move in tandem each and every month.

The pattern in consumer attitudes can be a key influence on stock and bond markets. Consumer spending drives two-thirds of the economy and if the consumer is not confident, the consumer will not be willing to pull out the big bucks. Confidence impacts consumer spending which affects economic growth. 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. In 2008 and 2009, the credit crunch and past recession led confidence downward with consumer spending contracting in tandem. More recently during the economic recovery, consumer confidence has edged back up but has been outpaced by improvement in spending.

Since consumer spending accounts for such a large portion of the economy, the markets are always eager 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. 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.