Michigan Consumer Sentiment Remains at a 14-Month High

September 26, 2014

by Doug Short

The Final University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment for September came in at 84.6, unchanged from the September Preliminary reading but up from the 82.5 August final. This is the highest level since July of last year, 14 months ago. Today's number was a tick below the Investing.com forecast of 84.7.

See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched indicator. I've highlighted recessions and included real GDP to help evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.

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To put today's report into the larger historical context since its beginning in 1978, consumer sentiment is now 1 percent below the average reading (arithmetic mean) and 1 percent above the geometric mean. The current index level is at the 44th percentile of the 441 monthly data points in this series.

The Michigan average since its inception is 85.1. During non-recessionary years the average is 87.4. The average during the five recessions is 69.3. So the latest sentiment number puts us 15.3 points above the average recession mindset and 2.8 points below the non-recession average.

Note that this indicator is somewhat volatile with a 3.1 point absolute average monthly change. The latest month is a somewhat smaller 2.1 point change. For a visual sense of the volatility, here is a chart with the monthly data and a three-month moving average.

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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 have been remarkably similar to the Michigan Index.

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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).

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The general trend in the Michigan Sentiment Index since the Financial Crisis lows has been one of slow improvement. However, it has been range bound since 2012, hovering between 72 and 85. It is currently near the top of the range.

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