Michigan Consumer Sentiment Declines

by Doug Short, Advisor Perspectives/dshort.com

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index final preliminary for October came in at 57.5, an unexpected decline from the 59.4 September final report. This level is most commonly associated with deep recessions.  This is the lowest non-recessionary level ever except for the 55.7 reading in August. The last three readings (including this one) are dramatically below any other post-recession readings and only the reading of 60 five months before the 1981 recession started is even close for sentiment going into a recession.  The Briefing.com consensus expectation and its own forecast was for 60.0.

See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched index.

Click for a larger image

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 16.8% below the regression line on the chart above. The current index level is at the 1.9 percentile of the 406 monthly data points in this series. The Michigan average over since its inception is 85.7. During non-recessionary years the average is 88.3. 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.

Click to View

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).

Click to View

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 October preliminary number from the Michigan survey is consistent with deep recessions.

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