Consumer sentiment remains sluggish as the economy continues to struggle and Americans face higher-than-normal heating bills. According to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary reading, consumer sentiment was 81.2 in February, unchanged from the prior month.
While the reading is still below levels seen before the financial crisis, it’s slightly better than estimated. On average, economists expected the index to reach 80.6. In 2013, consumer sentiment ranged from a low of 73.2 in October to a high of 85.1 in July. However, the Labor Department recently reported that the economy added only 113,000 jobs in January, well below estimates and the latest reminder that consumers face an uphill economic battle in a frigid winter.
“The good news is that confidence proved resilient to recent government reports of weak growth in income and employment,” survey director Richard Curtin wrote in a statement. “The not-so-good news is that the full impact on household budgets from the harsh winter has yet to be registered.”
Americans are more optimistic about the future than today. Current economic conditions, which measure whether Americans think it is a good time to make large investments, fell to 94.0 in February from 96.8 in January, below estimates calling for 95.9. On the other hand, consumer expectations rose to a six-month high of 73.0, compared to 71.2 last month. Economists only expected a reading of 71.6.
During the last recession, the index averaged slightly above 64. In the five years before the financial crisis, it averaged almost 90. Consumer sentiment is one of the most popular measures of how Americans rate financial conditions and attitudes about the economy. The University of Michigan’s Consumer Survey Center questions 500 households each month for the index.
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