US: Consumer Sentiment

Fri May 11 09:00:00 CDT 2018

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous
Sentiment Index - Level 99.0 98.0 to 100.0 98.8 98.8

The consumer sentiment index held steady at a solid 98.8 for preliminary May led by a modest gain in the expectations component, now at 89.5, which offset a slight dip in the assessment of current conditions, at 113.3. Year-ahead inflation expectations edged 1 tenth higher to 2.8 percent, a level last matched back in March this year but not surpassed since March 2015. There no hints in today's report of a burst higher for consumer spending nor for inflation, though the results are consistent with moderate strength for both.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
The consumer sentiment is expected to move higher in the preliminary reading for May, to 99.0 vs April's final reading of 98.8 and well above April's mid-month reading of 97.8. This index has been edging off unusually strong readings earlier in the year, gains triggered by this year's tax cut. Inflation expectations in this report, which are closely watched, have been very soft.

The University of Michigan's Consumer Survey Center questions 600 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.