Consumer Sentiment Slumps

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The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary consumer sentiment index for September dropped to 76.8 from a final reading of 82.1 in August. The September index is the lowest reading since April. Economists were expecting a reading of 82. The July reading of 85.1 marked a six-year high in the index.

Mixed together with Friday morning’s reports on producer prices and retail sales, the best conclusion one might reach is that the U.S. economy is not growing very fast, but at least it is not shrinking.

The current conditions index fell from 95.2 at the end of August to 91.8.

Expectations among households with less than $75,000 in annual income came in at 73.7 in the final August survey, indicating that these folks do not have a positive outlook on their prospects for future income growth. The September expectations sub-index score fell to 67.2, an eight-month low.

Possible U.S. military action in Syria likely accounts for some of the drop in both the current conditions and expectations sub-indexes, but rising interest rates, particularly for mortgages, probably gets most of the blame. With home prices rising along with mortgage rates and mortgage lenders on the brink of tightening lending standards, the hope of buying a house is fading among middle-income Americans. That seems to be today’s message.

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