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Economy

Economic Data (USA)

Friday, December 21, 2018

Consumer Sentiment: Final Result for December 2018

The University of Michigan's Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS) - Final Result for December 2018 was released today:

Predicted: 97.5
Actual: 98.3

  • Change from Previous Month: +0.821% (+0.8 point)
  • Change from 12 Months Previous: +2.503% (+2.4 points)

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Previous Month's Final ICS Reading: 97.5

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Chart: Index of Consumer Sentiment History
Chart: Index of Consumer Sentiment History

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From today's report:


"...Consumer confidence remained in December at the same record favorable levels as it has throughout the year. The Sentiment Index averaged 98.4 in 2018, the best year since 107.6 in 2000. Over the past half century, sentiment was higher in only two other time periods: 1964-65 and 1997-2000. These periods correspond to the two longest prior expansions since the mid 1800's. If the current expansion lasts past mid-2019, as is likely based on current data, it will become the longest expansion ever recorded.

While the plunge in stock prices has recently garnered the most attention in the national press, consumers have focused more on their concerns about income and job prospects. Consumers reported more negative than positive news about job prospects for the first time in two years, with the shift widespread across socioeconomic subgroups. When asked about prospects for the national unemployment rate, 30% expected increases, up from last month's 22% and the highest percentage in two years. Importantly, this still meant that 70% anticipated no increase in unemployment in the year ahead. Surprisingly, even in the last week of the survey, falling stock prices were reported by just 12% as a primary concern about recent economic developments. This may reflect their initial dismissal as another indication of the heightened volatility of stock prices, and not signal an emerging downtrend. While next month's data may reflect increased concerns, it has been news of changing job and income prospects that have been of the greatest concern to consumers..."

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The ICS is derived from the following five survey questions:


  1. "We are interested in how people are getting along financially these days. Would you say that you (and your family living there) are better off or worse off financially than you were a year ago?"


  2. "Now looking ahead, do you think that a year from now you (and your family living there) will be better off financially, or worse off, or just about the same as now?"


  3. "Now turning to business conditions in the country as a whole, do you think that during the next twelve months we'll have good times financially, or bad times, or what?"


  4. "Looking ahead, which would you say is more likely: that in the country as a whole we'll have continuous good times during the next five years or so, or that we will have periods of widespread unemployment or depression, or what?"


  5. "About the big things people buy for their homes, such as furniture, a refrigerator, stove, television, and things like that. Generally speaking, do you think now is a good or bad time for people to buy major household items?"

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The ICS uses a 1966 baseline, i.e. for 1966, the ICS = 100. So any number that is below the 1966 baseline of 100 means that the folks who were polled recently aren't as optimistic about the U.S. economy as the sample that was polled back in 1966.

The ICS is similar to the Consumer Confidence Index in that they both measure consumer attitudes and offer valuable insight into consumer spending.

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The "predicted" figure is what economists were expecting, while the "actual" is the true or real figure.

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