The August 2014 Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index rose moderately after rising now for the past four months. The market expected this index to come in at 85.0 to 94.0 (consensus 89.5) versus the 92.4 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 14 August 2014.
Here is an excerpt from The Conference Board:
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had increased in July, improved further in August. The Index now stands at 92.4 (1985=100), up from 90.3 in July. The Present Situation Index increased to 94.6 from 87.9, while the Expectations Index edged down to 90.9 from 91.9 in July.
Says Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board: “Consumer confidence increased for the fourth consecutive month as improving business conditions and robust job growth helped boost consumers’ spirits. Looking ahead, consumers were marginally less optimistic about the short-term outlook compared to July, primarily due to concerns about their earnings. Overall, however, they remain quite positive about the short-term outlooks for the economy and labor market.”
Consumers’ appraisal of current conditions continued to improve through August. Those saying business conditions are “good” edged up to 23.9 percent from 23.3 percent, while those claiming business conditions are “bad” declined to 21.5 percent from 22.8 percent. Consumers’ assessment of the job market was also more positive. Those stating jobs are “plentiful” increased to 18.2 percent from 15.6 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” declined marginally to 30.6 percent from 30.9 percent.
Consumers were slightly less optimistic in August about the short-term outlook. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months held steady at 20.4 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen fell to 10.2 percent from 12.1 percent. Consumers, however, were somewhat mixed about the outlook for the labor market. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead fell to 17.0 percent from 18.7 percent, although those anticipating fewer jobs also declined to 15.8 percent from 16.6 percent. Fewer consumers expect their incomes to grow, 15.5 percent in August versus 17.7 percent in July, while those expecting a drop in their incomes rose marginally to 11.9 percent from 11.1 percent.
Putting the Latest Number in Context
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 23 points above the recession mindset and only 1.8 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 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 92.4 is well above the current regression point of 78.4.
On a percentile basis, the latest reading is at the 46.8 percentile of all the monthly readings since the start of the monthly data series in June 1977 and at the 42.1 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.
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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