"Economists are pessimists: they've predicted 8 of the last 3 depressions."
--Barry Asmus

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Consumer Confidence

Consumer Confidence is upon us!  And what is Consumer Confidence you ask?[1]  It is a current to foreword-looking survey of what consumer households think about the economy.  It samples what people think about current and future economic conditions (employment, income, and so forth), and can be seen as a solid indicator of how likely consumers are to spend money.  And since private consumption is around a third of GDP, that makes this a huge leading indicator.
Last month, April Consumer Confidence beat expectations by a modest amount, hitting a level of 65.4 (the analysts were looking for a 65.0).  The present situation index rose to 37.5, and the expectations index rose to 82.6.  And for May, the Econoday-surveyed analysts are expecting further improvement, with the consumer confidence index rising to 66.5.
Of course, as we all know by now, expectations and reality are often parallel (not converging) lines.  So let's go to The Conference Board's press release to see see the actual results.  And the actual results are not good.  The Consumer Confidence Index declined 5.6 to a level of 60.8.  The Present Situation Index declined to a level of 39.3, and the Expectations index declined to a level of 75.2.
Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, had this to say:  "A more pessimistic outlook is the primary reason for this month’s decline in consumer confidence. Consumers are considerably more apprehensive about future business and labor market conditions as well as their income prospects. Inflation concerns, which had eased last month, have picked up once again. On the other hand, consumers’ assessment of current conditions declined only modestly, suggesting no significant pickup or deterioration in the pace of growth."
So, ouch.  Of course, this seems to explain why the Dow has cooled off a little after this morning's "Greek fire has not consumed Europe" rally.
[1]  Unless you already know.  Then you're not asking, and can probably safely skip the rest of this paragraph.

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