US: Consumer Sentiment

Fri Feb 16 09:00:00 CST 2018

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous
Sentiment Index - Level 95.5 93.5 to 97.0 99.9 95.7

Optimism over tax cuts is easily offsetting concern over the stock market, according to the consumer sentiment index which jumped sharply to 99.9 in preliminary February. Outside of October last year, this is the highest score in 14 years. Strength includes current conditions, at 115.1 and offering an early indication of a rebound for February consumer spending, and also expectations, at 90.2 and pointing to confidence in the income outlook.

Not showing any life are inflation expectations, unchanged at 2.7 percent for the year-ahead outlook and 2.5 percent for the 5-year outlook.

This report has been much flatter than other confidence readings which underlines today's strength as confirmation that the consumer, despite soft spending and gyrations in the stock market, is solidly underpinned by the strong jobs market.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
Consumer sentiment index recovered from a preliminary January slump to end the month at 95.7 and about where it was in December. This report has been flat unlike the consumer confidence index where readings have been much higher. Econoday's consensus for the preliminary February consumer sentiment index is 95.5 in a result that would point to no measurable panic tied to the stock 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.