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posted on 16 October 2015

Preliminary October 2015 Michigan Consumer Sentiment Improves

by Doug Short, Advisor Perspectives/dshort.com

The University of Michigan Preliminary Consumer Sentiment for October came in at 92.1, an increase from the 87.2 Final September reading. Investing.com had forecast 79.0 for the October Preliminary.

Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin makes the following comments:

The rebound in confidence signifies that consumers have concluded that the fears expressed on Wall Street did not extend to Main Street. Importantly, the renewed confidence did not simply represent a relief rally, but instead reflected renewed optimism. Personal financial expectations rose to their highest level since 2007, as did consumers' views toward purchases of durable goods. While consumers anticipate a continued economic expansion, many expected strong headwinds from falling commodity prices, weakened economies in China and elsewhere as well as continued stresses on European countries. Perhaps the most important finding is that low inflation and continued job growth have enabled consumers to adapt to a slower and more variable rate of economic growth by varying the pace of their spending without losing confidence that the expansion will continue. Overall, the data still indicate that consumption will expand at 2.9% during 2016.

See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched indicator. Recessions and real GDP are included to help us evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.

Click to View

To put today's report into the larger historical context since its beginning in 1978, consumer sentiment is 8 percent above the average reading (arithmetic mean) and 9 percent above the geometric mean. The current index level is at the 65th percentile of the 454 monthly data points in this series.

The Michigan average since its inception is 85.3. During non-recessionary years the average is 87.5. The average during the five recessions is 69.3. So the latest sentiment number puts us 22.8 points above the average recession mindset and 4.6 points below the non-recession average.

Note that this indicator is somewhat volatile, with a 3.1 point absolute average monthly change. The latest data point was a 4.9 point change from the previous month. For a visual sense of the volatility, here is a chart with the monthly data and a three-month moving average.

For the sake of comparison here is a chart of the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index (monthly update here). The Conference Board Index is the more volatile of the two, but the broad pattern and general trends have been remarkably similar to the Michigan Index.

Click to View

And finally, the prevailing mood of the Michigan survey is also similar to the mood of small business owners, as captured by the NFIB Business Optimism Index (monthly update here).

Click to View

The general trend in the Michigan Sentiment Index since the Financial Crisis lows has been one of slow improvement. But the survey findings since December have been relatively range bound with January remaining the interim peak.

Caveats on the Use of University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment

This survey is quantitatively derived from a fairly complex questionnaire (sample here) via a monthly telephone survey. According to Bloomberg:

This release is frequently released early. It can come out as early as 9:55am EST. The official release time is 10:00. Base year 1966=100. A survey of consumer attitudes concerning both the present situation as well as expectations regarding economic conditions conducted by the University of Michigan. For the preliminary release approximately three hundred consumers are surveyed while five hundred are interviewed for the final figure. The level of consumer sentiment is related to the strength of consumer spending. Please note that this report is released twice per month. The first is a preliminary figure while the second is the final (revised) figure.

This is a survey, a quantification of opinion rather than facts and data. The question - does sentiment lead or truly correlate to any economic activity? Since 1990, there seems to be a loose general correlation to real household income growth.

Related Posts:

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Consumer Confidence Consumer Confidence


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