The December 2013 Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index rebounded after last months decline. The market expected this index to come in at 72.0 to 81.2 (versus the 78.1 reported).
This index still remains in territory associated with past recessions. Note that this data is considered preliminary, and the cutoff for these results was 17 December 2013 (the middle of the government shutdown).
Here is an excerpt from Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board:
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 December 17.
Says Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board:
Consumer confidence rebounded in December and is now close to pre-government shutdown levels (September 2013, 80.2). Sentiment regarding current conditions increased to a 5 ½ year high (April 2008, 81.9), with consumers attributing the improvement to more favorable economic and labor market conditions. Looking ahead, consumers expressed a greater degree of confidence in future economic and job prospects, but were moderately more pessimistic about their earning prospects. Despite the many challenges throughout 2013, consumers are in better spirits today than when the year began.”
Consumers’ appraisal of overall current conditions improved. Those claiming business conditions are “good” edged down to 19.6 percent from 20.4 percent, however, those claiming business conditions are “bad” decreased to 22.6 percent from 24.6 percent. Consumers’ appraisal of the job market was also more upbeat. Those saying jobs are “plentiful” ticked up to 12.2 percent from 12.0 percent, while those saying jobs are “hard to get” decreased to 32.5 percent from 34.1 percent.
Consumers’ expectations, which had decreased in November, improved in December. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 17.2 percent from 16.7 percent, and those expecting business conditions to worsen decreased to 14.0 percent from 16.1 percent.
Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was considerably more optimistic. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased sharply to 17.1 percent from 13.1 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs decreased to 19.0 percent from 21.4 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase declined to 13.9 percent from 15.3 percent, while those expecting a decrease in their incomes declined to 14.0 percent from 15.5 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 has moved 8.7 points above the recession mindset but remains over 16 points below the non-recession average.
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 exponential 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 78.1 is just a tad below the current regression level of 78.3.
On a percentile basis, the latest reading is at the 29.9 percentile of all the monthly readings since the start of the monthly data series in June 1977 and at the 24.8 percentile (i.e., the top of the lowest quartile) 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.
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.