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posted on 31 May 2016

May 2016 Conference Board Consumer Confidence Declines

Written by Doug Short and Steven Hansen

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index declined to 92.6 in May from the April final reading of 94.7. The market expected (from Bloomberg) this index to come in between 95.0 to 99.3 (consensus 97.0).

Note that this data is considered preliminary, and the cutoff for these results was 19 May 2016.

Here is an excerpt from The Conference Board:

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had decreased in April, declined further in May. The Index now stands at 92.6 (1985=100), down from 94.7 in April. The Present Situation Index decreased from 117.1 to 112.9, while the Expectations Index declined from 79.7 to 79.0 in May.

"Consumer confidence declined slightly in May, primarily due to consumers rating current conditions less favorably than in April," said Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. "Expectations declined further, as consumers remain cautious about the outlook for business and labor market conditions. Thus, they continue to expect little change in economic activity in the months ahead."

Consumers' assessment of current conditions weakened in May. The percentage stating business conditions are "good" improved from 24.2 percent to 25.9 percent. However, those saying business conditions are "bad" also increased, from 18.2 percent to 21.6 percent. Consumers' appraisal of the labor market was less favorable. The proportion claiming jobs are "plentiful" was virtually unchanged at 24.3 percent, however those claiming jobs are "hard to get" increased from 22.8 percent to 24.4 percent.

Consumers were less optimistic about the short-term outlook than last month. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased from 13.8 percent to 15.1 percent, but those expecting business conditions to worsen also rose, from 10.8 percent to 11.6 percent.

Consumers' outlook for the labor market was less favorable. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead was virtually unchanged at 12.8 percent, but those anticipating fewer jobs increased from 16.7 percent to 18.1 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase improved from 15.8 percent to 16.2 percent, while the proportion expecting a reduction in income remained steady at 12.4 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 46% level of all the monthly data points since June 1977. That's a decrease from 50% previous month.

For an additional perspective on consumer attitudes, see 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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