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posted on 29 September 2015

September 2015 Conference Board Consumer Confidence Increased Moderately

Written by Doug Short and Steven Hansen

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index improved to 103.0 from the 101.5 reported last month. The market expected (from Bloomberg) this index to come in at 88.5 to 100.0 (consensus 96.0) versus the 103.0 reported.

This index has now improved to a point that its level is now commenserate with periods of economic expansion. Note that this data is considered preliminary, and the cutoff for these results was 17 September 2015.

Here is an excerpt from The Conference Board:

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had increased in August, improved moderately in September. The Index now stands at 103.0 (1985=100), up from 101.3 in August. The Present Situation Index increased from 115.8 last month to 121.1 in September, while the Expectations Index edged down to 91.0 from 91.6 in August.

"Consumer confidence increased moderately in September, following August's sharp rebound," said Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. "Consumers' more positive assessment of current conditions fueled this month's increase, and drove the Present Situation Index to an 8-year high (Sept. 2007, Index=121.2). Consumers' expectations for the short-term outlook, however, remained relatively flat, although there was a modest improvement in income expectations. Thus, while consumers view current economic conditions more favorably, they do not foresee growth accelerating in the months ahead."

Consumers' appraisal of current conditions was more positive in September. Those saying business conditions are "good" increased from 23.7 percent to 28.0 percent, while those claiming business conditions are "bad" declined modestly from 17.8 percent to 16.7 percent. Consumers were somewhat mixed about the job market. Those stating jobs are "plentiful" increased from 22.1 percent to 25.1 percent, however those claiming jobs are "hard to get" also rose from 21.7 percent to 24.3 percent.

Consumers' optimism about the short-term outlook was little changed in September. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased from 16.6 percent to 17.9 percent, but those expecting business conditions to worsen also increased, from 9.1 percent to 10.3 percent.

Consumers' outlook for the labor market was mixed. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead was virtually unchanged at 15.0 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs increased from 14.5 percent to 15.8 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase improved from 16.2 percent to 19.1 percent, while the proportion expecting a decline inched up from 9.8 percent to 10.1 percent.

Putting the Latest Number in Context

The chart below is another attempt to evaluate the historical context for this index as a coincident indicator of the economy. Toward this end we have highlighted recessions and included GDP. The regression through the index data shows the long-term trend and highlights the extreme volatility of this indicator. Statisticians may assign little significance to a regression through this sort of data. But the slope resembles the regression trend for real GDP shown below, and it is a more revealing gauge of relative confidence than the 1985 level of 100 that the Conference Board cites as a point of reference.

On a percentile basis, the latest reading is at the 66% level of all the the monthly data points since June 1977. That's an increase from 64% previous month.

For an additional perspective on consumer attitudes, see my post on the most recent Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index. Here is the chart from that post.

And finally, let's take a look at the correlation between consumer confidence and small business sentiment, the latter by way of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Optimism Index. As the chart illustrates, the two have tracked one another fairly closely since the onset of the Financial Crisis.

Caveats in Using the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index

According to Bloomberg, the following caveat is provided when reviewing this series:

The underlying series for "planned purchases" (autos, homes, and major appliances) and "vacation intentions" showed larger increases in November 2010 levels, primarily due to sample design differences. These level shifts will be treated as breaks, and there will be no historial revisions. Neither series is included in or has any impact on the Consumer Confidence Index.The switch to the Census X-12 seasonal adjustment program produced only minor differences for both levels and month-to-month changes. As a result, The Conference Board did not find it necessary to undertake a full historical revision of the CCI time series based on the seasonal adjustment method. The restated data for November 2010, December 2010 and January 2011 (preliminary data) are based on the prior seasonal adjustment method. This index is an average of responses to the following questions: 1. Respondents appraisal of current business conditions. 2. Respondents expectations regarding business conditions six months hence. 3. Respondents appraisal of the current employment conditions. 4. Respondents expectations regarding employment conditions six months hence. 5. Respondents expectations regarding their total family income six months hence. For each of the 5 questions, there are three response options: Postive, Negative and Neutral. The response proportions to each question are seasonally adjusted. For each of the five question (above), the POSITIVE figure is divided by the sum of the POSITIVE and NEGATIVE to yield a proportion, which we call the 'RELATIVE' value. For each question, the average RELATIVE for the calendar year 1985 is then used as a benchmark to yield the INDEX value for that question. From 1967 to mid 1977 the CCI was bi-monthly.

This is a survey based on a probability-design random sample - conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen. Surveys are a quantification of opinion rather than facts and data.

Observers of consumer sentiment polls should be aware they are imperfect quantifications of opinion. The question arises whether they are a rear view window or a forward looking indicator - or possibly a little of each. There is little question, however, that poor consumer sentiment corresponds to poor economic performance. Econintersect believes that consumer sentiment is mostly a coincident or lagging economic indicator.

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