Economic Reports Primer: Consumer Confidence, Sentiment

Each month more than 500 American households are polled via telephone for the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey. Find out how traders use it.

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Ring. Ring. Did you let that unknown caller go to voicemail? You may have just missed the folks at the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan!

Each month more than 500 American households are polled via telephone from the Ann Arbor facility to generate the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey. The roughly 50 questions cover three broad areas, including personal finances, business conditions, and buying conditions.

The survey is used to generate three main data reports:

  • Index of Consumer Sentiment
  • Index of Consumer Expectations
  • Current Economic Conditions

Want to check out the questions? Just for fun, you can take the consumer survey here.

Consumer sentiment survey sample question

FIGURE 1: CONSUMER SENTIMENT SAMPLE QUESTION.

Source: University of Michigan

Report name: University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey
Released by:
Survey Research Center, University of Michigan
Release date:
Preliminary data is released around the 15th of each month, and the final data in the last week of the month
Release time:
10:00 a.m. ET

Best trait: The best trait of this report may not be found in the monthly data. It may well be the ability for analysts to determine a six-month trend of consumers’ attitudes, says Patrick O'Hare, chief market analyst at Briefing.com. "What we see on a monthly basis I don't think is particularly useful."

One weakness: Overall, O'Hare concedes that he’s "not a huge fan of the confidence surveys." Why? It's not hard data. "It's polling people about their feelings. How you feel from one day to the next can change. And people often say one thing and do another. When it comes to consumer spending, these confidence numbers don't drive spending. It’s income growth that drives spending," he says.

Good tip: The Conference Board also releases a monthly confidence survey called the Consumer Confidence Index. O'Hare notes that the Conference Board's survey provides a slightly different set of information. "The questions revolve around labor market conditions," he says. The focus includes attitudes regarding whether jobs are "plentiful" or "hard to get" and regarding overall business conditions.

Tradability rating:
(a) Tends to be ignored. (b) Depends on overall trading climate. (c) Don't miss this one.

O'Hare rates the tradability of both confidence surveys pretty low at "3" on a 1 to 10 scale. The confidence data tends to be ignored by the market because "Market participants know there is not a super strong correlation between confidence and actual spending," O'Hare says.

Current read: There’s been a general softening trend in confidence data in recent months. "Consumers are growing a little more worried about labor market conditions and what that could mean for income down the road," O'Hare said.

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