Michigan Consumer Sentiment Is Grim But Better than Expected

by Doug Short, Advisor Perspectives/dshort.com

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index final report for October came in at 60.9, a welcome improvement from the 57.5 preliminary report from two weeks ago but still reflective of a recessionary mindset. The Briefing.com consensus expectation was for 58.0.

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 29% below the average reading (arithmetic mean), 28% below the geometric mean, and 16.8% below the regression line on the chart above. The current index level is at the 3.4 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.

The indicator can be somewhat volatile. For a visual sense of the volatility here is a chart with the monthly data and a three-month moving average.

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 broad pattern and general trends 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 October final number from the Michigan survey remains at a level most commonly associated with recessions.

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