Consumer Sentiment Looks Less Robust in April

The University of Michigan has released its revised consumer sentiment report for the month of April. It appears that the group of people surveyed did not get to see corporate earnings and the strong report on gross domestic product before voicing their opinions. The final reading for April’s index of consumer sentiment ticked down to 97.2 from 98.4 in March and from 98.8 a year earlier.

The breakdown showed a one-point drop in the current economic conditions index to 112.3 in April from 113.3 in March, and it is down 2.3 points from the 114.9 reported a year earlier. The index of consumer expectations dropped to 87.4 in April from 88.8 in March, but it is only down a point from the 88.4 reported a year earlier.

Friday’s sentiment report showed that 44% of consumers anticipated improvements in their finances, versus just 8% who expect their finances to worsen. That was shown to be the best overall reading going back to 2004. And regarding longer-term financial prospects, 60% reported expected to be better off in their finances over the next five years. That was the highest percentage view that the survey of consumers has ever recorded, although the report did indicate that the question was only asked sporadically from 1979 to 1985 and then consistently from 2011 onward.

This report, along with a much stronger than expected first-quarter GDP report earlier on Friday, should help to quell some of those “recession is imminent” fears that the media keeps pounding into the ears of the public. This sentiment report is effectively forecasting that inflation-adjusted personal consumption expenditures will grow by 2.5% in 2019.

According to the University of Michigan’s Richard Curtin, the Consumer Sentiment Index has moved sideways and has seen only small monthly variations since President Trump first entered office. The index has averaged 97.2 over the past 28 months, which was identical to this month’s final reading. The report further noted that “Variations within plus or minus 2.0 percentage points for the Sentiment Index meant that most of the monthly changes were statistically insignificant.”

That said, Friday’s report also indicates just how strong, despite being sideways, this trend has been. It shows that the last time consumer sentiment was as favorable for this long a period was during the late stages of the Clinton expansion. It also should be pointed out that the strength in sentiment has been far higher over the past two years than for roughly 10 years prior, even considering the years after the post-recession recovery was underway.

The S&P 500 has recovered from Friday’s initial selling with a slight 0.21 point gain to 2,926.38, and the Dow Jones industrials were still down about seven points at 26,454 in mid-morning trade. The yield on the 10-year Treasury was still down more than three basis points at 2.50%.