Consumer Sentiment Strengthens as Americans Acknowledge Wage, Job Gains

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Consumer sentiment extended its streak of weekly gains to four last week, according to the latest report from Morning Consult. Based on the firm’s daily survey of some 7,500 U.S. adults, overall consumer sentiment reached an index score of 110.8 for the week ended November 17. The 52-week high index was posted on April 29 at 112.6, and the 52-week low was seen on January 21 at 104.5.

The gap between the index’s component scores continues to narrow, a development that Morning Consult says “reflects a significant increase in consumers’ views of their current financial conditions.” The current conditions component of the overall sentiment score rose by 1.3 points last week to 110.3. The future expectations component rose 0.3 points to end the week at 111.2.

According to Morning Consult, “Consumers are finally acknowledging that consistent – albeit moderate – wage inflation and steady job gains combined with subdued price inflation have made them financially better off than they were 12 months ago.” Just two weeks ago, the current conditions component score was 99.8, and the firm’s analysts wrote that “wage gains remain weak, and a decreasing percentage of consumers feel better off financially than they were 12 months ago.” What has changed?

For one thing, confidence among retail workers. Strong earnings reports from Walmart last week and Target this week underscore the “fundamental strength of the U.S. consumer.” In a report last week, Morning Consult suggested that the outlook for the holiday shopping season was too low. The firm thinks that sales could improve year over year by as much as 5%. Black Friday has changed in many ways since the 1950s.

The impeachment hearings have “yet to materially affect consumer confidence,” the firm noted. While the political divide remains clearly defined, the effect of partisan politics does not always inject itself in how consumers view the economy. Several presidents from around the world already have been impeached.

Morning Consult asks the same questions of its survey respondents as does the University of Michigan’s twice-monthly Survey of Consumers. The difference is in the number and method of the survey. The Michigan sentiment index is based on 600 telephone interviews with U.S. adults, while Morning Consult’s results are based on an ongoing survey of 7,500 daily interviews and 210,000 monthly interviews, all conducted online.

The survey breaks down the data it collects by some key demographic groups. Here are some of the results of that breakdown.

Respondents who earn $250,000 or more in household income posted a week-over-week increase in overall sentiment of 4.6 points to an index score of 125.6. Respondents who earn between $50,000 and $100,000 posted a sentiment score of 115.8, up 0.2 points week over week. Respondents who earn less than $50,000 had an index score of 106.1, 0.7 points higher, but still the lowest overall score by income.

C-suite executives at companies with 21 to 100 employees boosted their overall sentiment index score by 8.4 points last week to 120.6. The largest companies (with 101 or more employees) had the highest index score at 147.1, unchanged week over week.

Survey respondents who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 posted an overall sentiment score of 139.2, up 1.2 points week over week, while Hillary Clinton voters posted an index score of 88.8, up 0.9 points. People who voted for another candidate had an index score of 97.5, down by 2.2 points week over week.

High-income respondents ($250,000 or more) had the highest index score for future expectations at 122.5, up 7.3 points week over week.

Respondents with less than a college degree posted a gain of 0.2 index points on the future expectations question to a score of 112.2, while college degree holders posted a dip of 0.8 points to an index score of 110.4.

Those with household incomes of $150,000 to $200,000 added 0.9 points to their current conditions index score to post a 130.5, while high-earners ($250,000+) added 0.4 points to lift their score to 130.2. People earning less than $50,000 added 1.2 points to a current conditions score of 103.0 to remain the lowest in this demographic.

Responding to the question of expectations for their personal finances over the next 12 months, high-income respondents posted an index score of 140.5, up 9.3 points week over week. The lowest earners were also more optimistic, adding 0.5 points to post an index score of 126.8.

On the question of current buying conditions, high earners added 1.7 points week over week to post an index score of 129.5, while the lowest earners added 1.0 points to reach a score of 114.3.

There is a political overhang, however. If trade negotiations with China conclude with a deal, support for the president is likely to remain strong, according to Morning Consult. The catch is “U.S. businesses have grown increasingly concerned that the terms of the deal would not address the initial causes of the trade dispute, including intellectual property rights and forced technology transfers.”