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Consumer Confidence is Up, But Worry About Future Remains

May 30, 2024
Conference Board notes their expectation index was low, which usually signals a recession.

The Conference Board announced on May 28 that its Consumer Confidence Index rose in May to 102.0 (1985=100) from 97.5 in April (a slight upward revision). 

The Present Situation Index—based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions—increased to 143.1 (1985=100) in May from 140.6 in April.

Meanwhile, the Expectations Index—based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions—rose to 74.6 (1985=100) from 68.8 last month. Despite this improvement, for the fourth consecutive month, the Expectations Index was below 80, the threshold which usually signals a recession ahead.

“Confidence improved in May after three consecutive months of decline,” said Dana M. Peterson, Chief Economist at The Conference Board, in a statement. “Consumers’ assessment of current business conditions was slightly less positive than last month.

"However, the strong labor market continued to bolster consumers’ overall assessment of the present situation. Views of current labor market conditions improved in May, as fewer respondents said jobs were ‘hard to get,’ which outweighed a slight decline in the number who said jobs were ‘plentiful.’ Looking ahead, fewer consumers expected deterioration in future business conditions, job availability, and income, resulting in an increase in the Expectation Index. Nonetheless, the overall confidence gauge remained within the relatively narrow range it has been hovering in for more than two years.

“Compared to last month, confidence improved among consumers of all age groups. In terms of income, those making over $100K expressed the largest rise in confidence. On a six-month moving average basis, confidence continued to be highest among the youngest (under 35) and wealthiest (making over $100K) consumers.”

The survey also revealed a possible resurgence in recession concerns. The Perceived Likelihood of a US Recession over the Next 12 Months rose again in May, with more consumers believing recession is ‘somewhat likely’ or ‘very likely’. T

This contrasts with CEO assessments of recession risk: according to our CEO Confidence survey, only 35% of CEOs surveyed in April anticipated a recession within the next 12 to 18 months.

Consumers were nonetheless upbeat about the stock market, with 48.2% expecting stock prices to increase over the year ahead, compared to 25.4 % expecting a decrease and 26.4% expecting no change.

On a six-month moving average basis, purchasing plans for homes were unchanged in May at their lowest level since August 2012. While still relatively depressed, buying plans for autos rose slightly for a second month, and buying plans for most big-ticket appliances increased for the first time in several months. Meanwhile, buying plans for electronics products were largely unchanged except for smartphones, which saw renewed interest.

Present Situation

Consumers’ assessment of current business conditions was slightly less positive in May.

  • 20.3% of consumers said business conditions were “good,” down from 20.8% in April.
  • 17.6% said business conditions were “bad,” unchanged from last month.

Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market improved, on balance, in May.

  • 37.5% of consumers said jobs were “plentiful,” down from 38.4% in April.
  • But just 13.5% of consumers said jobs were “hard to get,” down from 15.5%.

Expectations in Six Months

Consumers were less pessimistic about the short-term business conditions outlook in May.

  • 13.3% of consumers expected business conditions to improve, down from 13.4% in April.
  • 16.8% expected business conditions to worsen, down from 19.1%.

Consumers’ assessment of the short-term labor market outlook was also less negative in May.

  • 12.6% of consumers expected more jobs to be available, up from 12.3% in April.
  • 18.2% anticipated fewer jobs, down from 19.8% last month.

Consumers’ assessment of their short-term income prospects improved in May.

  • 16.9% of consumers expected their incomes to increase, up from 16.8% in April.
  • 11.0% expected their incomes to decrease, down from 14.0%.