Consumer Confidence Tumbles Again After US Senate Fails to Reach a Deal

Consumer research firm Morning Consult reported Monday morning that its consumer sentiment index slid from 98.72 on March 19 to 91.57 on March 23. The index has remained below 100 for the past week.

Based on its daily surveys, this marks an overall year-to-date decline of 22.04% since January 1. Since February 23, the index has dropped by more than 23 points. For the seventh consecutive day, the consumer sentiment index has fallen to its lowest level since tracking began.

The weekend drop of 5.3% compounded the sharp declines of the past week. All the largest daily declines recorded have come in the past seven days.

In last week’s report on consumer confidence, Morning Consult reported that 19% of Americans now believe that their personal financial situation will get worse, a 5 percentage point increase week over week.

Monday morning, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve announced new steps to battle the tsunami that has hit the U.S. and global economies. The Fed said it will purchase Treasuries and agency mortgage-backed securities “in the amounts needed” to keep the U.S. financial system well lubricated. There is no precedent for the Fed’s move.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin provided more support for the money market mutual fund and commercial paper markets and established three new credit facilities to provide liquidity to the term asset-backed securities loan facility, the primary market corporate credit facility and the secondary market corporate credit facility. Treasury will provide a combined $30 billion to these funds.

While the announcements temporarily lifted equities into positive territory after the opening bell, the Dow Jones industrials and the S&P 500 traded down about 2.4% 90 minutes later. The Nasdaq Composite traded down about 1.2%.

What the U.S. Congress, especially the Senate, do later today may make all the difference. Propping up demand from Americans who have lost their jobs, even if temporarily, due to the coronavirus outbreak will give consumers and investors a bit more confidence that the economy won’t completely implode. Republicans and Democrats appear to agree on a stimulus package for individuals and small businesses. The hang-up is how to help corporations and what price, if any, to extract for the help.

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