Chad Sheaffer, CFA, CAIA
Senior Research Analyst
U.S. consumer sentiment has become increasingly pessimistic in 2022 as a plethora of macro headwinds have created uncertainty. The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index, a key proxy for consumer confidence, fell to 58.4 in May, the lowest reading since August 2011. The survey aggregates consumer views across a range of questions including personal finances, general business conditions, housing market conditions, spending expectations, and outlook. The overall level of the index and the relative change from prior readings provide an indication as to how consumers feel about the current and future U.S. economy. Since its inception in 1978, the survey has posted a reading below 60 in only three other distinct periods: the late stages of the stagflationary environment in 1980, the Global Financial Crisis in 2008–2009, and a brief period in 2011 when S&P Global Ratings downgraded U.S. Treasury debt.
Despite consumer spending comprising the majority of GDP, extremely bearish consumer sentiment has historically been a poor predictor of recession. Survey readings below 60 have coincided with a recession only 33% of the time (two out of six recessions) since 1978. Consumer sentiment surveys seem to be far more indicative of the current consumer experience than the longer-term economic outlook. As seen in this week’s chart, the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index has shown a strong correlation to gasoline prices — a very visible component of inflation for most consumers — especially during periods of rising gas prices. While current sentiment can have a very real impact on economic growth via consumer spending, it is important to consider this metric alongside other economic measures, many of which still show consumer strength. With the market laser-focused on the health of the U.S. consumer and the risk of recession, we will continue to monitor various economic indicators and advise our clients accordingly.
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