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Despite an unseasonably cold winter that has dinged some economic indicators, the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment final number for February came in at 81.6, a bit stronger than the 81.2 January final. Today's reading fractionally beat the Investing.com forecast of 81.3. The index is off its 85.1 interim high set in July of last year.

See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched indicator. I've highlighted recessions and included real GDP to help evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.

(click to enlarge)

To put today's report into the larger historical context since its beginning in 1978, consumer sentiment is now 4 percent below the average reading (arithmetic mean) and 3 percent below the geometric mean. The current index level is at the 37th percentile of the 434 monthly data points in this series.

The Michigan average since its inception is 85.1. During non-recessionary years the average is 87.5. The average during the five recessions is 69.3. So the latest sentiment number puts us 12.3 points above the average recession mindset and 5.9 points below the non-recession average.

It's important to understand that this indicator is somewhat volatile with a 3.1 point absolute average monthly change. For a visual sense of the volatility here is a chart with the monthly data and a three-month moving average.

(click to enlarge)

For the sake of comparison here is a chart of the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index (monthly update here). The Conference Board Index is the more volatile of the two, but the broad pattern and general trends have been remarkably similar to the Michigan Index.

(click to enlarge)

And finally, the prevailing mood of the Michigan survey is also similar to the mood of small business owners, as captured by the NFIB Business Optimism Index (monthly update here).

(click to enlarge)

The trend in sentiment since the Financial Crisis lows has been one of slow improvement, but it has been more or less range bound since 2012, hovering between 72 and 85.

Source: Michigan Consumer Sentiment: A Modest Increase Despite Bad Weather