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Consumer Confidence: Back At February 2008 Levels!

  • Written by Syndicated Publisher No Comments Comments
    November 30, 2012

    The Latest Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index was released this morning based on data collected through November 13. The 73.7 reading was above the consensus estimate of 73.0 reported by Briefing.com. This is the highest level for this indicator since February 2008. The consumer has proven impervious to the savagery of Hurricane Sandy and the incessant fear-mongering about the Fiscal Cliff.

    Here is an excerpt from the Conference Board report.

    Says Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board: “The Consumer Confidence Index increased in November and is now at its highest level in more than four and a half years (76.4 Feb. 2008). This month’s moderate improvement was the result of an uptick in expectations, while consumers’ assessment of present-day conditions continues to hold steady. Over the past few months, consumers have grown increasingly more upbeat about the current and expected state of the job market, and this turnaround in sentiment is helping to boost confidence.”

    Consumers’ appraisal of current conditions was relatively unchanged in November. Those saying business conditions are “good” declined to 14.4 percent from 16.5 percent, while those saying business conditions are “bad” deceased to 31.5 percent from 33.0 percent. Consumers’ assessment of the labor market improved. Those claiming jobs are “plentiful” increased to 11.2 percent from 10.4 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” held steady at 38.8 percent.

    Consumers remained optimistic about the short-term outlook in November. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months edged up to 22.2 percent from 21.5 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen edged down to 14.3 percent from 15.0 percent. Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was about the same as in October. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead marginally improved to 20.3 percent from 19.7 percent, while those expecting fewer jobs remained virtually unchanged at 19.7 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes decreased to 15.9 percent from 16.7 percent.   [press release]

    The Recessionary Mindset

    Let’s take a step back and put Lynn Franco’s interpretation in a larger perspective. The table here shows the average consumer confidence levels for each of the five recessions during the history of this monthly data series, which dates from June 1977. The latest number has risen comfortably above the 69.4 average confidence of recessionary months and is now back to a level last seen during the early months of the Great Recession.

    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 linear 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 probably a more revealing gauge of relative confidence than the 1985 level of 100 that the Conference Board cites as a point of reference. Today’s reading of 73.7 is below the 79.7 of the current regression level (7.5% below, to be precise).

     

     

    It is interesting that the consumer confidence pattern since the NBER declared end to the recession is similar to the 36-month pattern following the 1990-1991 recession, although the current pattern has so far been at a lower confidence level. At an even higher level, there was also a two year period following the 2001 recession where confidence lagged. A common factor in all three cases is a “jobless recovery”. To a great extent, Consumer Confidence is a proxy for unemployment problems. The rise in confidence earlier this year had been concurrent with an improvement in the monthly unemployment numbers. The subsequent decline in confidence over the past few months underscored the Conference Board’s findings of a gloomier outlook for the labor market. Perhaps the more recent surveys point to another trend reversal.

    On a percentile basis, the latest reading is at the 25.8 percentile of all the monthly readings since the start of the monthly data series in June 1977 and at the 20.7 percentile of non-recessionary months.

    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.

     

     

    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 been closely correlated since the onset of the Financial Crisis.

     

     

    The NFIB index has been less volatile than the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, but it has likewise only partially recovered since the official end to the recession in June 2009.

     

    Images: Flickr (licence attribution)

    About The Author

    My original dshort.com website was launched in February 2005 using a domain name based on my real name, Doug Short. I’m a formerly retired first wave boomer with a Ph.D. in English from Duke. Now my website has been acquired byAdvisor Perspectives, where I have been appointed the Vice President of Research.

    My first career was a faculty position at North Carolina State University, where I achieved the rank of Full Professor in 1983. During the early ’80s I got hooked on academic uses of microcomputers for research and instruction. In 1983, I co-directed the Sixth International Conference on Computers and the Humanities. An IBM executive who attended the conference made me a job offer I couldn’t refuse.

    Thus began my new career as a Higher Education Consultant for IBM — an ambassador for Information Technology to major universities around the country. After 12 years with Big Blue, I grew tired of the constant travel and left for a series of IT management positions in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. I concluded my IT career managing the group responsible for email and research databases at GlaxoSmithKline until my retirement in 2006.

    Contrary to what many visitors assume based on my last name, I’m not a bearish short seller. It’s true that some of my content has been a bit pessimistic in recent years. But I believe this is a result of economic realities and not a personal bias. For the record, my efforts to educate others about bear markets date from November 2007, as this Motley Fool article attests.
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