Consumer Confidence: Shoppers Might Be Scared to Spend this Summer

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index preliminary report for July came in at 63.8, a stunning drop from the 71.5 June final number.┬áconsensus expectation had been for 71.4 and’s own forecast was for 70.0.

See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched index. Because the sentiment index has trended upward since its inception in 1978, I’ve added a linear regression to help understand the pattern of reversion to the trend. I’ve also highlighted recessions and included real GDP to help evaluate the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index as an indicator of 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 about 26% below the average reading (arithmetic mean), 25% below the geometric mean, and 27% below the regression line on the chart above. The current index level is at the 5th [!] percentile of the 403 monthly data points in this series.

The Michigan average over since its inception is 86. During non-recessionary years the average is 88.7. The average during the five recessions is 69.3.

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 general pattern and trend are 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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Consumer and small business sentiment remains at levels associated with other recent recessions. The trend in sentiment since the Financial Crisis lows has been one of general improvement. But today’s number is a giant step backward.

Econ 101: Your Ultimate Cheat Sheet To Consumer Confidence.

Doug Short Ph.d is the author of