Consumer confidence declines slightly in August: volatile stock prices, persistent job and income growth

August 28, 2015

ANN ARBOR—Consumer confidence declined in late August mainly due to the recent volatility in stock prices, according to the University of Michigan (U-M) Surveys of Consumers.

The overall decline was quite small, occurring very late in the month, as well as being offset by still quite favorable job and income prospects, according to U-M economist Richard Curtin, who directs the Surveys. Conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) since 1946, the Surveys monitor consumer attitudes and expectations. The data are available non-exclusively via Bloomberg.Surveys of Consumers

When data become available in mid September, much more will be known about consumers’ reactions to the volatile stock market, according to Curtin. Overall, the data suggest that real personal consumption expenditures will expand by a still healthy 2.9 percent in 2015, with the pace of growth rising to 3.0 percent in 2016. Needless to say, consumer sentiment must be carefully monitored in the months ahead.

“How will consumers react to volatile stock prices? The Black Mondays of October 17, 1987 and August 24, 2015 represent two episodes when the stock market declined mainly due to reasons other than the domestic economy,” said Curtin. “Prior to each stock decline, the Sentiment Index was very positive, but immediately following, it fell by about 10 percent. Consumers quickly dismissed the 1987 episode since it didn’t involve their jobs or incomes, and today’s consumers hold similar favorable views about their job and income prospects. While this preliminary reading must be confirmed by additional data, there is every reason to expect continued growth.”

Stock Ownership Widespread
Changing stock prices are a direct concern to consumers. Among all households, 61 percent own stock, and among those in the upper half of the income distribution, 85 percent own stock, which rises to 91 percent among the top fifth of the income distribution. Although the dollar value of stock holdings is highly concentrated, a broad array of consumers have a stake in the market. The effect of changing stock prices on spending is not as widespread since most consumers have stock in retirement accounts. Moreover, its impact on spending is much less than housing wealth.

Personal Finances Improve
Consumers evaluated their personal finances as positively as at any time in the past eight years. An improved financial situation was reported by 45 percent of all households in August, only marginally below the recent peak of 47 percent recorded in April. More than one-third of all households reported recent income gains, and half anticipated higher incomes during the year ahead. News heard about job growth remained quite high and three-in-four consumers anticipated that the unemployment rate would hold constant or decline in the year ahead.

Consumer Sentiment Index
The Sentiment Index was 91.9 in the August 2015 survey, down from 93.1 in July, but significantly above last August’s 82.5. The Current Conditions Index was 105.1 in August, down from 107.2 in July and above last August’s 99.8. The Expectations Index posted a much smaller loss, falling only slightly to 83.4 in August from July’s 84.1 and remaining significantly higher than the 71.3 recorded last August.

About the Surveys
The Survey of Consumers is a rotating panel survey based on a nationally representative sample that gives each household in the coterminous U.S. an equal probability of being selected. Interviews are conducted throughout the month by telephone. The minimum monthly change required for significance at the 95 percent level in the Sentiment Index is 4.8 points; for Current and Expectations Indices the minimum is 6.0 points.

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Surveys of Consumers, 734-763-5224

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