According to preliminary numbers from Thompson Reuters / University of Michigan, the Consumer Confidence Index is higher than it has been in five years today. The index increased to 84.9, which is the fourth increase in a row, and the highest one since July 2007. Bloomberg surveyed 71 economists about their expected initial readings for this month, and the median estimate was 82.9. The current conditions index also increased to 91.3, which was the best showing since January 2008, and the expectations gauge increased to 80.8, the strongest rating since July 2007.
Stocks climbed amidst the preliminary index findings, decreases in gasoline prices, soaring home values, and gains in employment. All of these positive economic indicators may mean that American morale is picking up just in time for the holiday shopping season.
In September, purchases were up .8 percent, which was the largest gain in more than six months. September’s positive number followed a .5 percent increase in August, making those two months the best back-to-back retail showings since the last part of 2010. In addition, the average gasoline price nationwide is down to $3.46 a gallon, which AAA reports is the lowest it’s been since July.
Income hasn’t been advancing as quickly as purchases however. Average hourly wages were up 1.6 percent in October, compared to one year ago. Disposable income is down .3 percent after inflation adjustments, according to the Commerce Department. The savings rate is also down to 3.3 percent, which is the lowest since last November, when it was 3.7 percent.
Economists at Barclays PLC (LON:BARC) (NYSE:BCS) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) report that the economy may have grown at a 3.2 percent rate for the third quarter, although the Commerce Department’s initial estimate, which came out last month, was just 2 percent. This 1.2 percentage-point revision would be the largest positive one since 2008. However, since factory stockpiles are up, growth will be restrained during the fourth quarter, as retailers have less need to restock their warehouses and shelves.
At this point it’s unclear just how much the fiscal cliff will affect future consumer sentiment. Most of those who were surveyed answered the questions before the election, although two-thirds of them believed President Obama would remain in office. However they also expected the fiscal cliff to be resolved quickly, so if legislative wrangling causes serious delays in resolution, customer sentiment could be reversed.