Consumer confidence posts a significant gain in September

September 28, 2012
Richard Curtin (Photo by D.C. Goings)

Richard Curtin (Photo by D.C. Goings)

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Consumer confidence improved substantially in September due to more favorable prospects for the national economy, according to University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin, director of the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers. The Surveys, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), have been monitoring consumer attitudes and expectations for over 60 years.

Consumers expected the economy to create more jobs in the year ahead, according to Curtin.  The overall rise in confidence was aided by higher stock prices as well as rising home values.  However, the majority of consumers still anticipated very small wage gains, and expected somewhat larger price increases during the year ahead, largely due to rising food prices.  This meant that half of all households anticipated declining living standards as their incomes fail to keep pace with inflation. 

To view a video about the survey, please click below.

“The September improvement in confidence was due to more favorable prospects for the economy and for jobs during the year ahead,” said Curtin.  “In addition, consumers reported some small gains in their financial situation.  The improvement was due to a reduction in their debt levels and an increase in the value of their assets, primarily because of rising stock prices and home values.  Nonetheless, consumers anticipate a rocky economic road ahead: small wage increases, rising food prices, slowly declining joblessness, higher taxes, and an overall economy that will not expand continuously but suffer some setbacks over the next several years.” To view and download the chart and table, please click here and here. (Excel files)

Positive Home Buying Plans
Low mortgage rates have reinvigorated home buying.  Just as importantly, people’s reluctance to sell their current home to buy another home has also receded.  Virtually every homebuyer cited low mortgage rates and low prices.  While those same low prices were seen as a disadvantage for home sellers, that disadvantage has shrunk to its lowest level in the past five years.  While the indications for home sales are positive, the data indicate that the recovery in the housing market will be slow and halting.

Positive Economic Growth Expected
Twice as many consumers now expect the economy to continue to expand as anticipate renewed economic declines.  In the September survey, more consumers spontaneously reported hearing news about job gains, and expected continued job gains during the year ahead.  When specifically asked about prospective changes in the unemployment rate, the highest number of consumers in the past six months expected declines in unemployment.

Consumer Sentiment Index
The Sentiment Index was 78.3 in September 2012, up from 74.3 in August, and well above last August’s 59.5. The outsized year-to-year gain of 31.6% reflects a rebound from the disastrous lows during the debt ceiling debate. More important were the monthly gains, especially the gain in the Expectations Index, which rose to 73.5 in September from 65.1 in August. In contrast, the Current Conditions Index slipped to 85.7 in September from 88.7 in August, but remained above the 82.7 recorded in July 2012.


About the survey

Surveys of Consumers logoThe 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% level in the Sentiment Index is 4.8 points; for Current and Expectations Index the minimum is 6.0 points.




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