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August 2013 Conference Board Consumer Confidence Increases Slightly

Written by Doug Short and

The August 2013 Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index increased slightly following last months slight decline. The market expected this index to come in at 77.0 (versus the 81.5 reported).

This index remains in territory associated with past recessions. Note that this data is considered preliminary, and the cutoff for these results was 15 August 2013.

Here is an excerpt from Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board:

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had declined in July, increased slightly in August. The Index now stands at 81.5 (1985=100), up from 81.0 in July. The Present Situation Index decreased to 70.7 from 73.6. The Expectations Index increased to 88.7 from 86.0 last month.The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey®, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was August 15.

Says Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators: “Consumer Confidence increased slightly in August, a result of improving short-term expectations. Consumers were moderately more upbeat about business, job and earning prospects. In fact, income expectations, which had declined sharply earlier this year with the payroll tax hike, have rebounded to their highest level in two and a half years. Consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions, on the other hand, was somewhat less favorable than last month.”

Consumers’ assessment of current conditions moderately declined. Those stating business conditions are “good” decreased to 18.4 percent from 20.8 percent, while those stating business conditions are “bad” was virtually unchanged at 24.8 percent. Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market was mixed. Those claiming jobs are “plentiful” decreased to 11.4 percent from 12.3 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” declined to 33.0 percent from 35.2 percent.

Consumers’ expectations, which had retreated in July, increased in August. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months edged up to 20.1 percent from 19.9 percent. Those expecting business conditions to worsen declined slightly to 11.1 percent from 11.3 percent.

Consumers’ outlook for the labor market remained upbeat. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased to 17.6 percent from 16.7 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs edged down to 17.3 percent from 17.7 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase improved to 17.4 percent from 15.7 percent. Those expecting a decrease declined slightly to 13.5 percent from 13.7 percent.

Finally Casting Off the Recessionary Mindset?

Let’s take a step back and put Lynn Franco’s interpretation in a larger perspective. The table here shows the average consumer confidence levels for each of the five recessions during the history of this monthly data series, which dates from June 1977. The latest number moves us 12.1 points above the recession mindset.

The chart below is another attempt to evaluate the historical context for this index as a coincident indicator of the economy. Toward this end I have highlighted recessions and included GDP. The linear 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 clearly resembles the regression trend for real GDP shown below, and it is a far more revealing gauge of relative confidence than the 1985 level of 100 that the Conference Board cites as a point of reference. Today’s reading of 81.5 is 3.8% above the current regression level of 78.5.

On a percentile basis, the latest reading is at the 33.4 percentile of all the monthly readings since the start of the monthly data series in June 1977 and at the 28.6 percentile of non-recessionary months.

For an additional perspective on consumer attitudes, see my post on 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.

The NFIB index has been less volatile than the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index. It will be interesting to see if the next NFIB release echoes the Conference Board’s improvement.

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.

Related Posts:

All Posts on Consumer Confidence

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