Michigan Consumer Sentiment: Less Optimism in November

The November Final Report came in at 67.4, down 4.3 (6%) from the October Final. Investing.com had forecast 66.8. Since its beginning in 1978, consumer sentiment is 21.7 percent below the average reading (arithmetic mean) and 20.8 percent below the geometric mean.

Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, makes the following comments:

Consumers expressed less optimism in the November 2021 survey than any other time in the past decade about prospects for their own finances as well as for the overall economy. The decline was due to a combination of rapidly escalating inflation combined with the absence of federal policies that would effectively redress the inflationary damage to household budgets. While pandemic induced supply-line shortages were the precipitating cause, the roots of inflation have grown and spread more broadly across the economy. One-in-four consumers cited inflationary erosions of their living standards in November. Rather than gradually easing along with diminished shortages, complaints about falling living standards doubled in the past six months and quintupled in the past year. Consumers anticipated declining inflation adjusted incomes (see the chart), and expected spending cutbacks due to rising inflation to slow the pace of growth in the national economy in the year ahead. With one important caveat: consumers have a strong desire to resume more normal holiday gatherings with family and friends, and to use their accumulated savings to fund their celebrations and gifts despite higher prices. While the holiday bye ends in January, the upward momentum in prices and wages will continue uninterrupted. Even when Biden's social infrastructure program is finally approved, it will not immediately ease inflation nor wage growth. The real transient issue is the rapidly closing window when effective policy actions can be accomplished by very modest nudges in interest rates and regulations. At present, consumers still expect inflation to revert to a much lower level over the next five years, but that anchor has begun to yield ground: long-term inflation expectations rose by 0.5 percentage points in the past year, to 3.0% in November. If expected long-term inflation continues to accelerate in the first half of 2022, it will make its containment more difficult, and even more so, if the rise continues into the last half of 2022. Moreover, a protracted inflationary period will bring a renewed urgency for expanding government relief payments from job losses to cover inflationary declines in living standards. There will be no more compelling precedent for consumers that the 5.9% inflationary adjustment in Social Security payments that will start in January 2022. [More...]

See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched indicator. Recessions and real GDP are included to help us evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.