August 2011 Michigan Consumer Sentiment: Better But Still Recessionary

by Doug Short, cross posted from Advisor

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index final report for August came in at 57.8, a modest improvement over the 55.7 August final report. But this is the 10th lowest reading since the inception on the series in 1798. The consensus expectation was for 56.3, and’s own forecast was for an even lower 53.0.

See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched index. Because the sentiment index has trended upward since its inception in 1978, I’ve added a linear regression to help understand the pattern of reversion to the trend. I’ve also highlighted recessions and included real GDP to help evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.

To put today’s report into the larger historical context since its beginning in 1978, consumer sentiment is about 33% below the average reading (arithmetic mean), 32% below the geometric mean, and 33% below the regression line on the chart above. The current index level is at the 2.2 percentile of the 405 monthly data points in this series.

The Michigan average over since its inception is 85.6. During non-recessionary years the average is 88.4. The average during the five recessions is 69.3.

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 general pattern and trend are remarkably similar to the Michigan Index.

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).


Consumer and small business sentiment remains at levels associated with other recent recessions. The trend in sentiment since the Financial Crisis lows has been one of slow improvement. The September preliminary number from the Michigan survey is consistent with deep recessions.

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