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Economic Data (USA)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Consumer Sentiment: Final Result for March 2020

The University of Michigan's Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS) - Final Result for March 2020 was released today:

Predicted: 92.0
Actual: 89.1

  • Change from Previous Month: -11.782% (-11.9 points)
  • Change from 12 Months Previous: -9.451% (-9.3 points)


  • Final ICS Reading for February 2020: 101.0

  • Final ICS Reading for  March 2019: 98.4


From today's report:

"...Consumer sentiment dropped 11.9 Index-points in March, the fourth largest one-month decline in nearly a half century. The steepest monthly decline was barely larger at -12.7 Index-points in response to the deepening recession in October 2008, and there were two declines of 12.2 points in response to the 1980 recession and Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. The 1980 and 2008 collapses in consumer confidence sparked long and deep recessions. The Katrina decline was reversed within three months, and some observers compared that "V" shaped economic episode to the expected impact of the coronavirus. What didn't show a "V" shape response was the recovery of New Orleans, a closer comparison to today's national economy.
A more comparable prior decline occurred in August 1990, when the Sentiment Index fell by 11.8 points due to the invasion of Kuwait, and subsequently recorded an all-time record gain of 17.3 points in March 1991. Those two outsized changes in the Sentiment Index defined the start and end of the 1990-91 recession. Just as in the 1990-91 episode, the Sentiment Index can be expected to decline in the months ahead.

Following trendless variations in February, the Index posted sharp declines in March. If the Consumer Sentiment Index were to stabilize at its most recent seven-day average, it would imply an additional decline of nearly 18.2 Index-points in April, which would amount to a record setting two-month decline of 30.1 points. Stabilizing confidence at its month's end level will be difficult given surging unemployment and falling household incomes. The extent of additional declines in April will depend on the success in curtailing the spread of the virus and how quickly households receive funds to relieve their financial hardships. Mitigating the negative impacts on health and finances may curb rising pessimism, but it will not produce optimism.

There is no silver bullet that could end the pandemic as suddenly as the military victory that ended the Gulf war. To avoid an extended recession, economic policies must quickly adapt to a new era that will reorder the spending and saving priorities of consumers as well as the relative roles of the public and private sectors in the U.S. economy..."


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?"



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.


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



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