January Consumer Sentiment Index Lowest Since Trump Election

The final University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index for January dipped from to a December reading of 98.3 to January’s level of 91.2. When the preliminary December index score was reported earlier this month, the index reflected a slightly larger decrease to 90.7.

The final reading is 4.7% lower than the final January 2018 index score of 95.7.

Economists polled by Bloomberg were expecting a January reading of 91.4.

The January subindex readings were all lower compared both to December and to last January.

The month-over-month consumer expectations subindex fell 8.2% from 87.0 to 79.9, and the current conditions subindex dropped from 116.1 to 108.8 (down 6.3%).

Year over year, the current conditions subindex dipped 1.5%, and the consumer expectations subindex sank by 7.4%.

The survey’s chief economist, Richard Curtin, said:

Consumer sentiment remained at month-end at its lowest level since Trump was elected. The end of the shutdown caused only a modest boost in the Sentiment Index. The typical impact of such “crisis” events is short lived, with consumers quickly regaining lost confidence. That is unlikely to occur this time as the deadline for resolution has only been extended until mid February. If the standoff continues into late February, it could foster sustained declines in economic optimism among consumers. Even small spending cutbacks, occurring simultaneously across the majority of consumers, could push the economy into a recessionary downturn.

Each proponent in the shutdown debate appears to put more weight on the political rather than on the economic implications of their actions. Continued strength in consumer spending is essential, especially given the volatile financial markets and weakened global growth prospects. It is of some importance to note that consumers still viewed their financial prospects quite positively (see the chart). Nonetheless, consumers were not as optimistic about future job gains, which was a consequence of the expected weakening of the economy due to the shutdown. Those losses could be sustained if the shutdown crisis lingers past mid February. There is still time to avoid a sustained decline in confidence, but it would require an end to the standoff. Indeed, if the current level of confidence is maintained, it would be consistent with a 2.6% growth in consumer spending in 2019.

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