Consumer confidence: Coronavirus trends dominate economy

June 26, 2020
Written By:
Bernie DeGroat

Economy amid COVID graphic. Image credit: iStockConsumer confidence rose moderately in June along with the reopening of the economy in several parts of the country, according to the University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

Richard Curtin

Richard Curtin

Compared with the shutdown in April, consumers thought current economic conditions had improved but have only partially offset the steep declines due to the pandemic. Not surprisingly, many consumers thought the economy could only improve from its virtual standstill in April, and the record-breaking rise in unemployment would surely ease in the year ahead, said U-M economist Richard Curtin, director of the surveys.

Although the majority anticipated improving conditions, consumers were just as definite in their opinions that bad times financially and high unemployment would still dominate the economy well into 2021, he said.

The early reopening in some parts of the country has helped to restore jobs and incomes, but it has come at the cost of an increase in the rate of infections.

“The early reopening in some parts of the country has helped to restore jobs and incomes, but it has come at the cost of an increase in the rate of infections,” Curtin said. “The Sentiment Index rose by just 0.5 points among Southern residents in June, and by only 3.3 points among Western residents.

“In the Northeast, in contrast, the Sentiment Index rose by an all-time record 19.1 points in June, with Northeastern residents apparently expecting only a negligible increase in infections. The resurgence of the virus in the South and West is likely to be accompanied by weaker consumer demand, which may act to temper spending in the rest of the country.”

Personal finances show little change

Assessments of their current finances remained near the lows recorded in April. Just 39% of all households in the June survey reported that their finances had recently improved, substantially below the 58% recorded in February. When asked to explain how their overall finances had changed, reports of income increases fell to just 28% in June, the smallest proportion in six years.

The largest net income declines from the February peak were among those under age 45 (down 40 percentage points) and households with incomes in the top third (down 38 percentage points). When asked about their income prospects for the year ahead, the expected median annual rate of gain was just 0.5% from April to June, the lowest quarterly figure in the past seven years.

Spending: The appeal of discounts amid job and income uncertainty

The appeal of price discounts prompts consumers to buy before the discounts vanish, and the persistent uncertainty about future jobs and incomes favors postponement. Recent data have indicated a modest increase in the attractiveness of discounts and low interest rates on purchases of household durables, vehicles and homes. While higher monthly sales gains are anticipated, the level of discretionary spending will remain depressed through 2021. The gains are likely to be lessened by a slowdown in reopening the economy in the months ahead.

Consumer Sentiment Index

The Consumer Sentiment Index was 78.1 in the June 2020 survey, up from 72.3 in May but well below last year’s 98.2. The Expectations Index rose to 72.3 in June, up from 65.9 in May and substantially below last year’s 89.3. The Current Conditions Index was 87.1 in June, up from 82.3 in May, but significantly below last June’s 111.9.

About the surveys

The Surveys of Consumers is a rotating panel survey based on a nationally representative sample that gives each household in the coterminous U.S. an equal probability of being selected. Interviews are conducted throughout the month by telephone. The minimum monthly change required for significance at the 95% level in the Sentiment Index is 4.8 points; for the Current and Expectations Index, the minimum is 6 points.

Surveys of Consumers
U-M Institute for Social Research