Consumer Sentiment Rebounds in February

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A gauge of consumers’ confidence in the economic outlook rebounded this month, as low unemployment and optimism about the new tax regime outweighed financial-market volatility for American households.

The University of Michigan on Friday said its consumer-sentiment index was 99.9 in February, up from 95.7 in January. The preliminary result overshot economists’ expectations for a reading of 95.0 for February. A final reading for the month will be released March 2.

This month’s rebound came after sentiment had dropped for the prior three months, albeit it from an elevated level. February’s reading was the highest since October when the index hit 100.7, its highest level since 2004.

”Stock market gyrations were dominated by rising incomes, employment growth, and by net favorable perceptions of the tax reforms,” said Richard Curtin, the survey’s chief economist. That meant the largest proportion of households in the survey reported an improved financial situation since 2000 and expected larger income gains during the year ahead.

Only 6% of consumers negatively referenced stock prices in the latest survey. By contrast, 35% favorably referenced government policies in February, as they did in January, the highest level in more than half a century.

The rise in the latest index “may be the first sign of the boost to consumers from lower taxes and suggests that, even if consumption growth slows in the first quarter, spending will continue to grow at a solid rate over 2018 as a whole,” Andrew Hunter, an economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients.

An index that tracks expectations about the future rose 4.5% on the month to 90.2. An index tracking confidence in the current economic situation increased 4.2% to 115.1.

Friday’s report showed households’ expectations about inflation haven’t shifted so far this year. Consumers this month expected a 2.7% rise in inflation over the next year, a level unchanged since December. They expected an 2.5% rise in inflation over the next five years, as they did in January.

Most consumers, like financial markets and the Federal Reserve, expected borrowing costs will rise this year. In the latest survey, the highest proportion of consumers since August 2005 expected higher interest rates this year.

The Fed’s next policy meeting is March 20-21. Fed officials in December penciled in three rate increases this year. Investors currently see an 83.1% probability that the central bank will raise rates a quarter percentage point from their current range of between 1.25% and 1.5% at the March meeting, according to Fed-funds futures tracked by CME Group .

Write to Harriet Torry at

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