April Consumer Sentiment Weighs Tax Cuts vs Tariffs

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The final University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index for April slipped into reverse, taking back solid gains posted in the months of February and March. Volatility in the equity markets caused by the administration’s trade policies weighed heavily on consumers’ views.

Rising interest rates also played a role in consumers’ outlook.

The preliminary results for the April index slipped from a final March reading of 101.4 to a reading of 98.8, a 2.6% month-over-month decrease. Economists polled by Bloomberg were expecting a final April reading of 98.0.

The consumer expectations sub-index fell month over month from 88.8 to 88.4 (0.5%), and the current conditions sub-index tumbled from 121.2 to 114.9 (5.2%).

Year over year, the consumer sentiment index is up 1.9%, the current conditions sub-index is up 2.0% and the consumer expectations sub-index is up 1.6%.

The survey’s chief economist, Richard Curtin, said:

Consumer sentiment improved slightly in the 2nd half of the month, shrinking the small overall decline for April. The final April figure was nearly identical to its 2018 average (98.9)-which was higher than any other yearly average since 107.6 was recorded in 2000 (which was, in turn, the highest yearly average in more than a half century). Tax reform and trade policies continue to spark spontaneous, or unaided, comments. The spontaneous comments about the tax reform legislation had a positive balance of opinion, but the trade tariffs generated a negative balance of opinion. The difference in the Expectation Index was striking: positive views on tax reform had Index values 28 points higher than those who made no mention of the tax reform legislation, and negative views on tariffs had Index values that were 28 points lower than those who didn’t spontaneously mention trade. Aside from the offsetting impact of Trump’s tax and tariff policies, the best simple summary of the current state of consumer confidence is that the economy is “as good as it gets.” While consumers do not anticipate an economic downturn anytime soon, the long expansion has made consumers (and economists) somewhat apprehensive about future trends. Overall, the data are consistent with a growth rate of 2.7% in real personal consumption in the year ahead.

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