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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Keeping Current With Consumer Attitudes

Guest post by Gallup Senior Editor Lydia Saad

Recent consumer data released by the Conference Board and Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan indicate that consumer attitudes worsened in January, compounding a sharp decline seen in December. That may seem out of sync with Gallup reports of a recent surge in confidence.
In fact, the findings are compatible. Gallup tracks consumer attitudes daily and also reports them weekly. In line with the other consumer surveys, Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index was slightly lower in the first week of January than in the first week of December: -21 vs. -16. Those are the weeks that likely come closest to the bulk of the mail surveys received for the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index in December and January.
However, since early January, Gallup has found confidence rebounding, first to -18 for the week ending Jan. 13, then to -13 for the week ending Jan. 20, and to -9 for the week ending Jan. 27.

The consumer surveys released by the Conference Board Tuesday, and by Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan earlier this month, were both preliminary readings, and thus could be revised upward based on the additional surveys received or conducted by each firm later in the month. However, since the bulk of the Conference Board’s mail surveys are returned in the first half of the month and are already contained in their preliminary estimate, their revised estimates will likely show little change. Look for a more dramatic improvement in the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index in February -- if the current, more optimistic attitudes persist -- as they should pick this up.

The final January Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment figure to be released Friday could show relatively more improvement compared with its preliminary January report, in that it will include another week of interviewing since the preliminary findings were released.
In any case, the bottom line is, yes, consumer attitudes were worse in early January than in early December -- possibly due to the politics and economic uncertainty surrounding the fiscal cliff debate. However, there is a new positive trend underway in consumer attitudes that Gallup is tracking daily and weekly, possibly tied with the major gains being seen on Wall Street.

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