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posted on 29 September 2017

Final September 2017 Michigan Consumer Sentiment Down

by Jill Mislinski, Advisor Perspectives/dshort.com

The University of Michigan Final Consumer Sentiment for September came in at 95.1, down from the August Final reading of 96.8. Investing.com had forecast 95.3.

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

Consumer sentiment remained largely unchanged from the slightly lower level recorded at mid-month. The resilience of consumers has again been demonstrated as concerns about the impact of the hurricanes on the national economy have quickly faded. Given that the survey was able to reach most households in Florida and Texas in late September, it should be no surprise that small declines were recorded in the current financial situation of households. In the past year, there has been a long list of issues that could have derailed the overall level of consumer confidence, including the unprecedented partisan divide, North Korea, Charlottesville, and the hurricanes. Confidence has nonetheless remained very favorable, moving sideward in a very narrow positive range. In the first nine months of 2017, the Sentiment Index averaged 96.2, just ahead of averages of 91.9 and 92.9 recorded in the prior two years, making 2017 the highest recorded since 2000. To be sure, the recent Sentiment levels are still well below the average of 105.3 recorded from 1997 to 2000, which has also been reflected in slower overall growth rates in consumer spending. Needless to say, resilience is an ineffable quality whose appearance or disappearance is difficult to predict in advance. While consumer resilience has lowered precautionary saving motives and increased willingness to spend and incur debt, those changes will still be constrained by slower income growth and consumers who are still more risk averse. Overall, consumer expenditures are expected to increase by 2.6% in 2017 and in the 1st half of 2018. [More...]

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 11.0 percent above the average reading (arithmetic mean) and 12.3 percent above the geometric mean. The current index level is at the 78th percentile of the 477 monthly data points in this series.

The Michigan average since its inception is 85.6. During non-recessionary years the average is 87.8. The average during the five recessions is 69.3. So the latest sentiment number puts us 26.0 points above the average recession mindset and 7.5 points below the non-recession average.

Note that this indicator is somewhat volatile, with a 3.0 point absolute average monthly change. The latest data point saw a 1.8 percent 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.

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 saw gradual decline followed by a bounceback later in the year with its interim peak in January of 2017.


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