Consumer Confidence Rises Again

August 26, 2014

by Doug Short

The Latest Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index was released this morning based on data collected through August 14. The headline number of 92.4 was an improvement over the revised July final reading of 90.3, an upward revision from 90.9. Today's number beat the Investing.com forecast of 89.0. The current level is the highest since October 2007, the month the S&P 500 peaked prior to the Great Recession.

Here is an excerpt from the Conference Board press release.

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.

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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.

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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.

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