Consumers grow more confident, despite financial-market swings

A customer examines carefully prices at a CVS Pharmacy store in Chicago on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016.
A customer examines carefully prices at a CVS Pharmacy store in Chicago on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016.

By Lucia Maffei

Consumer confidence in the U.S. improved moderately in January, a business group reported Tuesday, as Americans shook off a falling stock market and showed cautious optimism in business conditions.

The non-profit New York-based Conference Board said that its monthly Consumer Confidence Index rose to 98.1 from 96.3 in December. That was above the expectations of the economists surveyed by Bloomberg, who forecast a January index at 96.5.

“Overall, the message from these measures of consumer attitudes seems to be that there have been enough favorable developments for consumers lately to offset the recent declines in equity markets,” Daniel Silver, economist at JPMorgan, wrote in an online commentary.

Last November, as consumers grew concerned about the job market, the index fell sharply to 90.4.

The Consumer Confidence Index over the last 12 months

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The index fell below 92 twice in the last 12 months. (Lucia Maffei/MEDILL)

“Consumer confidence improved slightly in January, following an increase in December,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board, in a press release. “Consumers’ assessment of current conditions held steady, while their expectations for the next six months improved moderately.”

The Expectation Index which Franco referred to increased from 83.0 to 85.9 in January.

“For now, consumers do not foresee the volatility in financial markets as having a negative impact on the economy,” Franco added.

Americans expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months rose from 14.5 percent to 16.2 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen edged down from 10.8 percent to 10.3 percent.

The survey was based on a random sample of approximately 3,000 questionnaires sent to U.S. households and collected by Jan. 14.

According to The Conference Board, the proportion of workers expecting their incomes to increase improved up 1.8 percentage points, from 16.3 percent to 18.1 percent.

“The American consumer has a strong stomach, even after this month’s wild ride,” Jennifer Lee, director and senior economist at BMO Capital Markets Economics, wrote in an analysis. “For the purposes of consumer spending, there are good intentions out there.”

“Whether or not there will be follow-through is another story,” Lee concluded.

Photo at top: A customer carefully examines prices at a CVS Pharmacy store in Chicago on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. Consumer confidence rose in January. (Lucia Maffei/MEDILL)