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Consumer Confidence at a 15-Month Low

November 24, 2015

by Doug Short

The latest Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index was released this morning based on data collected through November 12. The headline number of 90.4 was an unexpected plunge from the October final reading of 99.1, which is an upward revision from the initial 97.6. Today's number was below the forecast of 99.5 and the lowest reading in 15 months.

Here is an excerpt from the Conference Board press release.

“Consumer confidence retreated in November, following a moderate decrease in October,” said Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “The decline was mainly due to a less favorable view of the job market. Consumers’ appraisal of current business conditions, on the other hand, was mixed. Fewer consumers said conditions had improved, while the proportion saying conditions had deteriorated also declined. Heading into 2016, consumers are cautious about the labor market and expect little change in business conditions.”

Putting the Latest Number in Context

The chart below is another attempt to evaluate the historical context for this index as a coincident indicator of the economy. Toward this end we have highlighted recessions and included GDP. The 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 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.

Consumer Confidence

On a percentile basis, the latest reading is at the 43% level of all the monthly data points since June 1977. That's a decline from 56% previous month.

For an additional perspective on consumer attitudes, see the most recent Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index. Here is the chart from that post.

Consumer Sentiment

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.

NFIB Optimism and Consumer Confidence