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posted on 27 September 2016

September 2016 Conference Board Consumer Confidence Now At Highest Level Since the Great Recession

Written by Doug Short and Steven Hansen

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index which had increased in August, improved further in September. The Index now stands at 104.1 (1985=100), up from 101.8 in August. The market expected (from Bloomberg) this index to come in between 96.4 to 102.3 (consensus 98.8).

Analyst Opinion of Conference Board Consumer Confidence

The index level this month is above the values seen during the last year. The trend now is clearly showing improvement.

Note that this data is considered preliminary, and the cutoff for these results was 15 September 2016.

Here is an excerpt from The Conference Board:

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had increased in August, improved further in September. The Index now stands at 104.1 (1985=100), up from 101.8 in August. The Present Situation Index rose from 125.3 to 128.5, while the Expectations Index improved from 86.1 last month to 87.8.

"Consumer confidence increased in September for a second consecutive month and is now at its highest level since the recession," said Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. "Consumers' assessment of present-day conditions improved, primarily the result of a more positive view of the labor market. Looking ahead, consumers are more upbeat about the short-term employment outlook, but somewhat neutral about business conditions and income prospects. Overall, consumers continue to rate current conditions favorably and foresee moderate economic expansion in the months ahead."

Consumers' assessment of current conditions improved in September. Those stating business conditions are "good" decreased from 30.3 percent to 27.4 percent. However, those saying business conditions are "bad" declined from 18.2 percent to 16.2 percent. Consumers' appraisal of the labor market was more positive than last month. Those stating jobs were "plentiful" increased from 26.8 percent to 27.9 percent, while those claiming jobs are "hard to get" declined from 22.8 percent to 21.6 percent.

Consumers' optimism regarding the short-term outlook was more favorable in September. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months decreased from 17.6 percent to 16.5 percent. However, those expecting business conditions to worsen also declined from 11.4 percent to 10.2 percent.

Consumers' outlook for the labor market was more upbeat than in August. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased from 14.4 percent to 15.1 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs declined from 17.5 percent to 17.0 percent. The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to increase declined from 18.5 percent to 17.1 percent. However, the proportion expecting a decline decreased from 11.0 percent to 10.3 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 70th percentile of all the monthly data points since June 1977, up from the 65th percentile the 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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