Consumer Confidence Declined Again in September
The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index® declined again in September, marking two consecutive months of decline. The index dropped to 103.0 from August's upwardly revised reading of 108.7. This month's reading was worse than expected, falling below the 105.5 forecast.
The Present Situation Index, which is based on consumers' assessment of current business and labor market conditions, was little changed in September as it inched up to 147.1 from 146.7 in August. Meanwhile, the Expectations Index, which is based on consumers' short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions, fell to 73.7 in September from 83.3 in August. Note that a level of 80 or below for the Expectations Index historically signals a recession within the next year.
“Consumer confidence fell again in September 2023, marking two consecutive months of decline,” said Dana Peterson, Chief Economist at The Conference Board. “September’s disappointing headline number reflected another decline in the Expectations Index, as the Present Situation Index was little changed. Write-in responses showed that consumers continued to be preoccupied with rising prices in general, and for groceries and gasoline in particular. Consumers also expressed concerns about the political situation and higher interest rates. The decline in consumer confidence was evident across all age groups, and notably among consumers with household incomes of $50,000 or more.”
Petersonadded: “Assessments of the present situation were little changed overall, due to divergent views on the state of business conditions and job availability. Fewer consumers said that business conditions were good, but fewer also said they were bad. Regarding the employment situation, slightly more consumers said that jobs were “plentiful,” but also slightly more said that jobs were “hard to get.” When asked about current family financial conditions (a measure not included in calculating the Present Situation Index), the share of respondents citing a ‘good’ situation fell again, and those citing ‘bad’ conditions rose, signaling rising concerns about current family finances.
“Expectations for the next six months tumbled back below the recession threshold of 80, reflecting less confidence about future business conditions, job availability, and incomes. Consumers may be hearing more bad news about corporate earnings, while job openings are narrowing, and interest rates continue to rise—making big-ticket items more expensive. Expectations for interest rates declined in September after surging in the prior month, but the outlook for stock prices continued to fall. Notably, average 12-month inflation expectations have held steady over the past three months despite ongoing complaints about higher prices. Still, the measure of expected family financial situation, six months hence (not included in the Expectations Index) worsened further.
“The proportion of consumers saying recession is ‘somewhat’ or ‘very likely’ rose in September after dropping in August. The fluctuating soundings likely reflect ongoing uncertainty given mixed buying plans. On a six-month moving average basis, plans to purchase autos were flat but remained at an elevated level, while plans to purchase appliances continued to trend upward. But plans to buy homes—more in line with rising interest rates—continued to trend downward.”
Background on the Consumer Confidence Index
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index measures the consumers attitudes and confidence in the economy, business conditions, and labor market, with higher readings indicating higher optimism. The general assumption is that when consumers are more optimistic they will spend more and stimulate economic growth. However, if consumers are pessimistic then spending will decline and the economy may slow down. The index is based on a 5 question survey, with 2 questions related to present conditions and 3 questions related to future expectations. The survey began in 1967 and was conducted every two months but changed to monthly reporting in 1977, which is where our data begins.