What Is the Consumer Confidence Index?

Learn How Optimistic People Are About the Economy

African American woman reading newspaper in cafe
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The Consumer Confidence Index is a measurement of Americans’ attitudes about current and future economic conditions. It tells you how optimistic people are about the economy and their ability to find jobs.

Key Takeaways

  • The Consumer Confidence Index aims to capture consumer attitudes and buying intentions based on a survey of 3000 households.
  • The Consumer Confidence Index compares the current monthly consumer confidence to that of 1985, when it was at 100 exactly.
  • The Present Situation Index measures consumers' judgment of the current business conditions and job market.
  • The Expectations Index reports on consumers' projections about business, job availability, and income level six months from now.
  • The Consumer Confidence Index is a lagging indicator, meaning it is better at following economic trends than predicting them.

What Is the Current Consumer Confidence Index?

The Conference Board reported that the index was 107.3 in April 2022, up from a low point of 88.6 in December 2020. Both are lower than the February 2020 reading of 132.6 prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Note

Consumer confidence plummeted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government requested non-essential businesses to close and asked families to shelter in place.

Even during the beginning of the pandemic, the index was still better than its record low of 25.3 in February 2009. The record high is 144.7, which was reached in May 2000.

The Board bases the index on a monthly survey of 3,000 households. The report gives details about consumer attitudes and buying intentions. It provides a national summary and a breakdown by age, income, and region of the country.

How Does the Consumer Confidence Index Work?

The Conference Board created the index in 1967. The current number compares the most recent month's confidence to what it was in 1985. That year, the index was 100 exactly. If the most recent index is above 100, then consumers are more confident than they were in 1985. If it's below 100, they are less confident than during that time.

There are three indexes in each month's Consumer Confidence Report.

Present Situation Index

The Present Situation Index measures the response to two questions the survey asks:

  • How would you rate the present business conditions? 
  • What would you say about available jobs in your area right now?

For April 2022, this index was 152.6, down from 153.8 in March.

Expectations Index

The Expectations Index reports on respondents' predictions for business conditions and available jobs six months from now. It also measures whether those surveyed think their incomes will be higher, lower, or about the same in six months.

For April 2022, this index was 77.2, up from 76.7 in March.

Consumer Confidence Index

The most popular is the Consumer Confidence Index. It is a composite of the two other indexes. For April 2022, it was 107.3, slightly down from 107.6 in March.

How the Consumer Confidence Index Affects You

Consumer confidence is the primary driver of demand in the U.S. economy. If people are uncertain about the future, they will buy less. That slows economic growth. When trust in the future is high, people are more willing to shop. That increases consumer spending, which is almost 70% of U.S. gross domestic product. The other components of GDP are business investments, government spending, and net exports.

If confidence increases too much, then people will spend more instead of saving. It creates higher demand that could trigger inflation. To stop it, the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates. That slows economic growth. It also increases the value of the dollar. That reduces exports because they are now priced higher in foreign markets. It makes imports cheaper, which also reduces inflation.

The Consumer Confidence Index is a lagging indicator. That means it is not good at predicting future economic trends. If anything, it follows them.

Most people don’t feel that the economy has changed until months later. For example, even when a recession is over, people don’t feel it. Many are still unemployed. Others are in debt they incurred while they were jobless. Some others have lost their homes. They are uncertain whether the economic climate has improved.

Note

The lag also occurs when a recession begins. People still feel confident. It takes time before they lose their jobs or homes. Even if they’ve lost a job, they feel that they can find a new one as quickly as they did a few years ago.

It might take six months before they realize there aren’t any jobs. By that time, they’ve gone into debt and maybe defaulted on their mortgage.

The survey also asks how easy it is to find jobs. Usually, it doesn’t become difficult to find work until after the economy has turned. That’s because unemployment is also a lagging indicator. The last thing managers want to do is lay off their workers. They cut every other cost first. By the time they begin layoffs, the recession is already underway.

The Bottom Line

Investors and stock market analysts often monitor the Consumer Confidence Index closely. They want to get an idea of whether consumer spending will increase or decrease. Any rise can spur business spending to meet the demand. That increases earnings and stock prices. For that reason, investors are more likely to buy stocks if the Consumer Confidence Index rises.

The stock market can move dramatically on the day the index is published, but that will probably only happen if there is a lot of uncertainty about the economy. Investors welcome any added insight the Consumer Confidence Index can provide.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is considered a "good" consumer confidence score?

The Consumer Confidence Index uses the 1985 report as a baseline for comparison, because it was a solid 100. The score is relative, so anything above 100 means consumers feel more optimistic about the economy than they did in 1985 and anything below 100 means they feel less confident than in 1985.

Is the Consumer Confidence Index accurate?

The Conference Board takes surveys monthly, of over 3,000 households of varying demographic and socioeconomic data. The frequency of the report, large sample size, and diversity of data, do contribute to its accuracy, but as with all survey-based studies it is only an estimation. Observing changes in the CCI can be a useful economic indicator.

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