Consumer Sentiment in U.S. Slumps by Most Since October 2008
U.S. consumer sentiment plummeted in March by the most since October 2008 as mounting Covid-19 cases nationwide and business closures elevated concerns about the economy.
The University of Michigan’s final sentiment index for the month slumped 11.9 points to a three-year low of 89.1, data Friday showed. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a decline to 90 after a preliminary March reading of 95.9.
Ratings for current conditions also decreased by the most since 2008, and a measure of the economic outlook dropped to the lowest level in more than three years. Stocks fell and Treasuries advanced as investors assessed the pandemic’s impact on the economy.
“The outlook for the national economy for the year ahead changed dramatically in March, with the majority now expecting bad times financially in the entire country,” Richard Curtin, director of the Michigan sentiment survey, said in a statement. “Perhaps the most important takeaway is that the largest proportion of consumers in nearly 10 years anticipated that the national unemployment rate will increase in the year ahead.”
The report provides one of the more-sobering pictures yet of how the widespread economic halt, amid efforts to help contain the virus, is impacting consumers’ attitudes. The March figures represent a drastic departure from just a month earlier, when a strong job market and cheap fuel contributed to the second-highest sentiment reading since 2004.
The university’s final survey for the month included responses through March 24, a stretch that includes significant upheaval and uncertainty in day-to-day living and the labor market, as well as in financial markets. A report yesterday showed initial claims for unemployment benefits soared to a record 3.28 million last week.
“Stabilizing confidence at its month’s end level will be difficult given surging unemployment and falling household incomes,” Curtin said. “Mitigating the negative impacts on health and finances may curb rising pessimism, but it will not produce optimism.”
April consumer sentiment data will reflect the surge in dismissals and growing Covid-19 cases, as well as progress on Capitol Hill toward a $2 trillion economic-relief package that includes direct payments to many Americans.
Most notably, the number of confirmed cases nationwide continues to rise. There are currently more than 85,000 with the disease in the U.S., the most in the world, compared with 62 people at the end of February.
The Michigan data showed an index of buying conditions for durable goods dropped in March to the lowest level since 2014.
Year-ahead financial prospects declined across all age and income subgroups, though modestly as respondents anticipated the negative effects from the pandemic would be short-lived.
The impact of the virus on consumer sentiment are likely to become more evident as monthly reports capture the tectonic shift in economic and market conditions seen over the last month. The Conference Board will publish its March confidence reading on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s weekly index fell to a four-month low.
— With assistance by Kristy Scheuble
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