Should the Major Pop in Consumer Confidence Really Be a Big Surprise?

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Whether economists were caught by surprise over the strength of Consumer Confidence was entirely predictable probably remains up for debate. What should not be up for debate is that investors and economists should have expected a higher directional report on Tuesday morning’s Consumer Confidence.

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index had declined in October but increased significantly in November. Consumer Confidence rose to 107.1 from 100.8 in October. A similar jump had been seen in the Consumer Sentiment’s report last week showed that the post-election gain in the Sentiment Index was +8.2 points above the November pre-election reading — pushing the Index +6.6 points higher for the entire month above the October reading.

Again, the direction of November’s confidence gains to 107.1 should not be a surprise even if the strength of those gains might have surprised many. Bloomberg was calling for a consensus estimate of just 101.0 — but the preliminary report was revised to 100.8 from 98.6. Dow Jones was calling for a consensus estimate of 100.8.

What matters here the most is that this reading was mostly a post-election reading. The Conference Board’s press release showed right in that release that the majority of this was pre-election but they also showed that the cutoff date for the preliminary results was November 15.

Inside of the Consumer Confidence index also matters. The Present Situation Index rose to 130.3 in November from 123.1 in October. The Expectations Index improved to 91.7 from 86.0 the prior month.

Consumers’ assessment of current conditions improved in November. Consumers’ short-term outlook, on balance, was more optimistic in November. Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market was moderately more positive than last month, and consumers’ outlook for the labor market was likewise somewhat mixed.

Other specific sub-index readings were shown by the Conference Board as follows:

  • The percentage saying business conditions are “good” improved from 26.5 percent to 29.2 percent.
  • Those saying business conditions are “bad” fell from 17.3 percent to 14.8 percent.
  • The percentage of consumers stating jobs are “plentiful” increased from 25.3 percent to 26.9 percent.
  • Those claiming jobs are “hard to get” was unchanged at 21.7 percent.
  • The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months fell from 16.4 percent to 15.3 percent.
  • Those expecting business conditions to worsen also decreased, from 11.8 percent to 10.0 percent.
  • The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead was virtually unchanged at 14.5 percent.
  • Those anticipating fewer jobs fell from 16.6 percent to 13.8 percent. The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to increase (17.5%) was little changed from last month.
  • The proportion expecting a drop in income fell moderately, from 10.2 percent to 9.0 percent.

Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board, said of November’s strength:

Consumer confidence improved in November after a moderate decline in October, and is once again at pre-recession levels. A more favorable assessment of current conditions coupled with a more optimistic short-term outlook helped boost confidence. And while the majority of consumers were surveyed before the presidential election, it appears from the small sample of post-election responses that consumers’ optimism was not impacted by the outcome. With the holiday season upon us, a more confident consumer should be welcome news for retailers.