U-M Study: Consumer Sentiment at Standstill Amid Economic Uncertainty

Consumer sentiment was essentially unchanged in October, inching up just 1.3 index points above September, according to the new monthly Consumer Sentiment Index from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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Women stress about a lot of credit card debt and bills on the fl
Overall consumer sentiment remains historically low, according to the U-M Consumer Sentiment Index. // Stock Photo

Consumer sentiment was essentially unchanged in October, inching up just 1.3 index points above September, according to the new monthly Consumer Sentiment Index from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The U-M Consumer Sentiment Index rose to 59.9 in the October 2022 survey, up from 58.6 in September and below last October’s 71.7.

The Current Index, meanwhile, was up to 65.6, up from 59.7 in September and below last October’s 77.7. The Expectations Index fell to 56.2, down from 58 in September and below last October’s 67.9.

Following the notable improvement in August, sentiment remained low by historic standards as consumers continued to voice concerns about inflation. Buying conditions for durables surged 23 percent on the basis of easing prices and supply constraints. Year-ahead expected business conditions, however, declined by 19 percent, indicating that consumers believe the economy will worsen before it improves.

“Overall sentiment remains low by historical standards and remains consistent with a recession to come,” says Joanne Hsu, a U-M economist and director of the surveys. “Continued declines in sentiment for higher-income consumers is worrisome given how much consumption spending they drive, and their dismal views are unlikely to abate given ongoing turbulence in financial markets.”

The fact that sentiment is little changed obscures patterns by income that diverged in unusual ways in October, according to the university. Typically, upper-income consumers report higher levels of sentiment than lower-income consumers. The current data show, however, that for higher-income consumers, sentiment continued declining in recent months and is now even worse than that of their lower-income counterparts.

Recent tumult in financial markets weighed on higher-income consumers, with 17 percent spontaneously mentioning declining asset values as a negative influence on their personal finances, the highest share in five months. Their expectations over their own incomes and their personal finances more generally in the year ahead both deteriorated considerably this month as well.

Higher-income consumers also expressed worsening outlooks for business conditions, over both the short and long term, and labor markets. With the simultaneous impacts of falling stock values and rising prices, higher income consumers appear increasingly worried about the prospect of an economic downturn.

Despite the recent uptick in gas prices, sentiment among lower-income consumers reached its most favorable reading in 10 months. This improvement was driven primarily by higher current incomes and reflects strength in the labor market, particularly in segments with low-wage workers. Relative to September, lower-income consumers also reported more favorable expectations for their future incomes and personal finances in the year ahead.

Lower-income consumers’ outlooks for the macroeconomy in the short and long run also both improved notably over last month. Many have taken note that supply problems appear to be easing. Given their vulnerability in an economic downturn, however, confidence in their financial situations could quickly reverse.

To review the full results of the survey, visit here.

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