When Consumer Confidence and Consumer Sentiment Do Not Match Up

By Jon C. Ogg

When economists and the public go after the same sort of economic data and come up with entirely different views, it generally means that someone has to be very wrong. That would be the first conclusion. A second, or an alternative, conclusion might be that something has changed drastically in a very short period of time.

Tuesday’s measurement of Consumer Confidence by the Conference Board came in at a very disappointing 90.4 reading for November. The October report was revised upward to 99.1, and Bloomberg’s Econoday estimate was for Confidence to rise to 99.6. Expectations really hurt here also, falling 10 points to a roughly an 18 month low of 78.6; and the jobs component for expected job openings was weak as well.

Now let’s look back just over ten days ago to a Friday the 13th report from the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment report. While this was a preliminary number it rose to 93.1 from a prior 90.0, and was better than the 92.0 expected by economists at that time. The verdict here was that sentiment was moving sharply higher after disappointing sentiment readings in September and August when times were looking tougher.

While we have had the terror attacks in France on November 13, the Conference Board  said in its release that the cutoff date for the preliminary results was November 12. That means that all of this weakness in the report does not have the “terror panic” in it.

24/7 Wall St. wanted to see if the quote would offer that real highlight about where things have gone amiss and why the Consumer Sentiment and Consumer Confidence reports do not match up. If all things are accurate, jobs may be the culprit. The Conference Board report said of Confidence in November:

Consumer confidence retreated in November, following a moderate decrease in October. The decline was mainly due to a less favorable view of the job market. Consumers’ appraisal of current business conditions, on the other hand, was mixed. Fewer consumers said conditions had improved, while the proportion saying conditions had deteriorated also declined. Heading into 2016, consumers are cautious about the labor market and expect little change in business conditions.

We then went back to cross reference the preliminary “Consumer Sentiment” report’s quote from the University of Michigan. That report said:

Confidence rose in early November mainly due to a stronger outlook for the domestic economy. Overall, the most recent confidence reading was equal to the average during the first ten months of 2015, and higher than any year since 2004. Two trends dominated the early November data: consumers anticipated somewhat larger income increases during the year ahead as well as expected a somewhat lower inflation rate. This meant that consumers held the most favorable inflation-adjusted income expectations since 2007. Moreover, the somewhat larger gains were anticipated by lower income households. Buying plans for large discretionary purchases improved, especially for vehicles. Overall, the data indicate an expected rate of growth in personal consumption expenditures of 2.9% in 2016.

Additional data included in the Conference Board’s release on Consumer Confidence was as follows:

  • Consumers’ assessment of current conditions was less positive in November. Those saying business conditions are “good” decreased from 26.8 percent to 24.4 percent. However, those claiming business conditions are “bad” also decreased from 18.3 percent to 16.9 percent.
  • Consumers were less upbeat about the current state of the job market. Those stating jobs are “plentiful” decreased from 22.7 percent to 19.9 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” increased to 26.2 percent from 24.6 percent.
  • Consumers’ optimism about the short-term outlook declined sharply in November. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months decreased from 18.1 percent to 14.8 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen increased slightly to 11.0 percent from 10.4 percent.
  • Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was also more pessimistic. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead fell from 14.4 percent to 11.6 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs increased from 16.6 percent to 18.7 percent.
  • The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase declined from 18.1 percent to 17.2 percent, while the proportion expecting a decline increased from 10.5 percent to 11.8 percent.

One issue to consider is that the Conference Board’s pool of people surveyed is far larger than the University of Michigan’s pool of people surveyed. Not all of the questions are the same either.



Nuria Pujol