Consumer Confidence Declined in February

February 24, 2015

by Doug Short

The Latest Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index was released this morning based on data collected through February 12. The headline number of 96.4 was a decline from the revised January final reading of 103.8, an upward revision from 102.9. Today's number was below the Investing.com forecast of 99.6.

Here is an excerpt from the Conference Board press release.

According to Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board: “After a large gain in January, consumer confidence retreated in February, but still remains at pre-recession levels (September 2007, Index, 99.5). Consumers’ assessment of current conditions remained positive, but short-term expectations declined. While the number of consumers expecting conditions to deteriorate was virtually unchanged, fewer consumers expect conditions to improve, prompting a less upbeat outlook. Despite this month’s decline, consumers remain confident that the economy will continue to expand at the current pace in the months ahead.”

Consumers’ appraisal of current conditions was moderately less favorable in February than in January. Those saying business conditions are “good” decreased from 28.2 percent to 26.0 percent, however those claiming business conditions are “bad” decreased from 17.3 percent to 17.0 percent. Consumers were also somewhat less positive in their assessment of the job market, with the proportion stating jobs are “plentiful” decreasing slightly from 20.7 percent to 20.5 percent, and those claiming jobs are “hard to get” increasing from 24.6 percent to 26.2 percent.

Consumers’ optimism about the short-term outlook was considerably less positive in February. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months decreased from 18.9 percent to 16.1 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen increased from 8.2 percent to 8.7 percent.

Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was also less optimistic. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead decreased from 17.3 percent to 13.4 percent. However, those anticipating fewer jobs declined from 14.8 percent to 14.3 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting growth in their incomes declined from 19.5 percent to 15.1 percent. The proportion expecting a decrease rose from 10.8 percent to 12.0 percent.

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 I 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 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.

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On a percentile basis, the latest reading is at the 66th percentile of all the monthly readings since the start of the monthly data series in June 1977.

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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