Consumer Sentiment Gets Right-Sized for October

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The University of Michigan has released its final report on consumer sentiment for October. This was its second look for the month, as each month gets revised. Consumer sentiment was less robust than initially forecast, and this shows that the competing report from the Conference Board on consumer confidence was more indicative of reality than the preliminary sentiment report had indicated.

Consumer sentiment ticked lower to 90.0 in October’s revision, down from the preliminary figure of 92.1. Bloomberg was somehow pointing to a boost, with the consensus reading up at 92.5.

If you break down the report you get a mixed picture. The October report’s more modest 90.0 may be less than expected and less than previously shown, but it is still 2.8 points higher than September. This means that the sharp negativity from August and September is already dwindling in the minds of consumers — and that is what you want to see inside of 60 days until the important holiday season. Confident consumers spend money over the holidays, and scared consumers spend money reluctantly.

Current conditions were at 102.3, versus 101.2 in September and 98.3 a year ago. The index of consumer expectations, meaning the outlook, was down at 82.1, but that is still better than the 78.2 reading from the prior month and the 79.6 a year earlier. The University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers full report said:

The entire October rebound from September was due to gains in confidence among lower income households, while confidence among households with incomes in the top third of the income distribution retreated a bit due to concerns about financial markets. Nonetheless, the overall impact from volatile stock prices has been quite small. Indeed, the average level of the Sentiment Index thus far in 2015 (93.1) is higher than any other year since 2004 (95.2). More importantly, future financial prospects were viewed more favorably by all households in October than anytime since 2007. In addition, the expected long term inflation rate dropped to the lowest level in over a quarter century. While these favorable trends will keep the pace of growth in consumer spending at 2.9% in 2016, consumers will continue to make increases in their buying plans contingent on the availability of price discounts and low interest rates. Indeed, it was consumers’ disappointment with available price discounts that was responsible for the small retrenchment in confidence in the last half of October.

Earlier this week, 24/7 Wall St. had said:

A pleasant surprise came earlier in October via a consumer sentiment reading from the University of Michigan. But it is not being echoed in the larger consumer confidence reading in October. What matters about the prior sentiment reading was that it elevated expectations that “confidence” may mirror the boost. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was October 15. … The Conference Board has released its Consumer Confidence Index, showing that a moderate increase seen in September actually dipped lower in October. The index fell to 97.6 in October from 102.6 in September, much lower than the consensus estimate of 102.5 from Bloomberg.

The market may be a bit surprised by this lower revision, but they shouldn’t have been.

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