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posted on 13 May 2016

Preliminary May 2016 Michigan Consumer Sentiment At Highest Level in Nearly a Year

by Doug Short, Advisor Perspectives/dshort.com

The University of Michigan Final Consumer Sentiment for May came in at 95.8, it's highest reading in nearly a year and a 6.8 point increase from the 89.0 April Final reading. This is its largest increase since 2013. Investing.com had forecast 90.0.

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

Consumer sentiment rebounded in early May due to more frequent income gains, an improved jobs outlook, and the expectation of lower inflation and interest rates. The largest gains were recorded among lower income and younger households, although the gains were recorded among all income and age subgroups as well as across all regions. Nearly all of the gains were in the Expectations Index, which rose to its highest level in nearly a year. To be sure, the data still indicated the negative impact of uncertainty about future economic policies associated with the Presidential election, but its overall impact was overwhelmed by favorable economic developments. It is too early to judge the potential impact of the election on consumers' expectations, and one month's rebound in consumer confidence is insufficient to increase the current forecast for inflation-adjusted consumer expenditures from 2.5% 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.

Michigan Consumer Sentiment

To put today's report into the larger historical context since its beginning in 1978, consumer sentiment is 12.2 percent above the average reading (arithmetic mean) and 13.5 percent above the geometric mean. The current index level is at the 82nd percentile of the 461 monthly data points in this series.

The Michigan average since its inception is 85.4. During non-recessionary years the average is 87.6. The average during the five recessions is 69.3. So the latest sentiment number puts us 26.5 points above the average recession mindset and 8.2 points above the non-recession average.

Note that this indicator is somewhat volatile, with a 3.0 point absolute average monthly change. The latest data point was a 6.8 point change from the previous month, its largest jump since December of 2013. For a visual sense of the volatility, here is a chart with the monthly data and a three-month moving average.

3-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.

Consumer Confidence

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).

NFIB Optimism

The general trend in the Michigan Sentiment Index since the Financial Crisis lows has been one of slow improvement.The survey findings since December 2015 have seen a gradual decline with January 2015 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.



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