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By Doug Short

The Latest Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index was released this morning based on data collected through January 16. The 80.7 reading was above the 78.1 forecast by Investing.com and 6.1 above the November 77.5 (previously reported at 78.1). This measure of confidence has risen from its interim low of 72.0 in November but remains below its 82.1 interim high in June of last year.

Here is an excerpt from the Conference Board report.

Consumer confidence advanced in January for the second consecutive month," said Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. "Consumers' assessment of the present situation continues to improve, with both business conditions and the job market rated more favorably. Looking ahead six months, consumers expect the economy and their earnings to improve, but were somewhat mixed regarding the outlook for jobs. All in all, confidence appears to be back on track and rising expectations suggest the economy may pick up some momentum in the months ahead."

Consumers' assessment of overall present-day conditions continues to improve. Those claiming business conditions are "good" increased to 21.5 percent from 20.2 percent, while those claiming business conditions are "bad" edged down to 22.8 percent from 23.2 percent. Consumers' appraisal of the labor market was also more positive. Those saying jobs are "plentiful" ticked up to 12.7 percent from 11.9 percent, while those saying jobs are "hard to get" decreased slightly to 32.6 percent from 32.9 percent.

Consumers' expectations, which had improved sharply in December, increased again in January. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months remained unchanged at 17.4 percent, while those anticipating business conditions to worsen decreased to 12.1 percent from 13.9 percent. Consumers' outlook for the labor market was mixed. Those expecting more jobs in the months ahead declined to 15.4 percent from 17.1 percent. However, those anticipating fewer jobs decreased to 18.3 percent from 19.4 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase rose to 15.8 percent from 13.9 percent, while those anticipating a decrease in their incomes declined to 13.6 percent from 14.3 percent. (press release)

Putting the Latest Number in Context

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 moved 11.3 points above the recession mindset but remains 13.7 points below the non-recession average.

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 exponential 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 a far 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 80.7 is just a tad above the current regression level of 78.3.

On a percentile basis, the latest reading is at the 32.5 percentile of all the monthly readings since the start of the monthly data series in June 1977 and at the 28.0 percentile (i.e., three points above the lowest quartile) 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 tracked one another fairly closely since the onset of the Financial Crisis.

The NFIB index has been less volatile than the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index.

Source: Consumer Confidence Strengthens In January