Mike Spychalski, CAIA
This week’s Chart of the Week compares consumer confidence (based on the University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment) to the performance of the S&P 500 over the past five years. As the chart illustrates, there has been a very strong correlation between consumer confidence and the performance of the S&P 500 over the past five years, as evidenced by a correlation coefficient of 0.72 over that time period.
In July, the University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment came in at a level of 85.1, which was the highest level of the index since July of 2007. Given the recent combination of improving labor market conditions, a rebound in housing prices, and all time highs in the U.S. equity markets, it is not surprising that consumer confidence is on the rise. This recent rise in consumer confidence has been accompanied by a simultaneous increase of money flowing into equity mutual funds, which have seen inflows of more than $92 billion year to date in 2013, following five consecutive years of out flows from equity mutual funds (from 2008-2012 when a total of $535 billion flowed out of equity mutual funds)1. The flows into equity funds, along with relatively strong economic data as of late, have resulted in the S&P 500 reaching all time highs during the month of July.
It should be noted, though, that there are some potential risks to consumer confidence over the near term. The July consumer confidence survey indicated that a continuation of the recent rise in interest rates has the potential to be a drag on confidence. The renewed battle over the U.S. budget, which is set to expire at the end of September – including talks of a government shutdown and possible default due to a battle over lifting the debt ceiling – is eerily similar to what occurred in the summer of 2011. During the budget negotiations in summer of 2011, consumer confidence dropped from 74.3 to 55.7, and the S&P 500 from May to September dropped 17.9%. To be sure, there were factors other than the budget battle that contributed to the steep drops in consumer confidence and the equity markets (notably, the Euro crisis was in full swing during this time period).
It is important for investors to pay attention to these potential risks that are on the horizon. Considering the tight correlation between consumer confidence and equity market returns in recent years, any event that has the potential to erode consumer confidence could result in losses in the equity market as well.
1 According to the Investment Company Institute
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