The Latest Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index released is based on data collected through October 18. The 72.2 reading was fractionally above the consensus estimate of 72.0 reported by Briefing.com. This is an increase from last month’s 68.4, which is a downward revision from the Conference Board’s preliminary report of 70.3.
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 again in October and is now at its highest level this year. Consumers were considerably more positive in their assessment of current conditions, with improvements in the job market as the major driver. Consumers were modestly more upbeat about their financial situation and the short-term economic outlook, and appear to be in better spirits approaching the holiday season.”
Consumers’ assessment of current conditions improved in October. Those claiming business conditions are “good” rose to 16.5 percent from 15.3 percent, while those saying business conditions are “bad” edged down to 33.1 percent from 33.8 percent. Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market was also more positive. Those stating jobs are “plentiful” increased to 10.3 percent from 8.1 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” declined to 39.4 percent from 40.7 percent.
Consumers were generally more optimistic about the short-term outlook in October. Those anticipating an improvement in business conditions over the next six months increased to 21.4 percent from 17.9 percent. However, those expecting business conditions to worsen edged up to 15.1 percent from 14.5 percent.
Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was also mixed. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased to 19.2 percent from 18.1 percent, while those expecting fewer jobs increased to 20.3 percent from 18.7 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes edged up to 16.7 percent from 15.9 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 is well above the bottom of the unprecedented trough in 2008, and it has risen above the 69.4 average confidence of recessionary months over three years after the end 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 72.2 is below the 79.7 of the current regression level (9.5% 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 25.2 percentile of all the monthly readings since the start of the monthly data series in June 1977 and at the 20.0 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.
The latest confidence reading was based on data collected through October 18th. It will be interesting to see potential impact of hurricane Sandy on the final October data released on November 27th, when we also get the preliminary November report.
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.