Michigan Consumer Sentiment: December Final Continued To Sink

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by: Doug Short

By Jill Mislinski

The University of Michigan Final Consumer Sentiment for December came in at 95.9, down 2.6 from the November Final reading of 98.5. Investing.com had forecast 97.1.

Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, make the following comments:

Consumer confidence continued to slowly sink in December, with most of the decline among lower income households. The extent of the decline was minor, with the December figure just below the average for 2017 (95.9 versus 96.8). Indeed, the average in 2017 was the highest since 2000, and only during the long expansions of the 1960's and 1990's was confidence significantly higher. The recent strength was due to the second highest assessments of current economic conditions since 2000. This strength was offset by a slight increase in uncertainty about future economic prospects. Tax reform was spontaneously mentioned by 29% of all respondents, with nearly an equal split between positive and negative impacts on economic prospects. Party affiliation was the dominant correlate of people's assessments of the tax legislation, with the long term economic outlook the most negatively affected. Buying plans for durables and vehicles remained unchanged at favorable levels. Most consumers will know more about the revised tax code when the new paycheck withholding amounts take effect in early 2018. While the mostly small gains in take-home pay may not spark an uptick in optimism, those gains would act to dampen any renewed pessimism. Overall, the data indicate that real personal consumption expenditures will expand by 2.6% in 2018. [More...]

See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched indicator. Recessions and real GDP are included to help us evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.

To put today's report into the larger historical context since its beginning in 1978, consumer sentiment is 11.8 percent above the average reading (arithmetic mean) and 13.1 percent above the geometric mean. The current index level is at the 81st percentile of the 480 monthly data points in this series.

Note that this indicator is somewhat volatile, with a 3.0 point absolute average monthly change. The latest data point saw a 2.6 percent change from the previous month. For a visual sense of the volatility, here is a chart with the monthly data and a three-month moving average.

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.

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).

The general trend in the Michigan Sentiment Index since the Financial Crisis lows has been one of slow improvement. The survey findings since December 2015 saw gradual decline followed by a bounceback later in the year.