Even with the stock market booming and employment improving, consumer sentiment as reported by the University of Michigan remains very tepid.
The March report came in at 74.3 this mornings which was slightly below the prior 75.3 level. It was also below the consensus levels of 76. Either way these numbers remain at the high end of the range for the last few years as the chart below shows. Still this is significantly below historical levels showing how pessimistic consumers remain.
The main culprit is supposedly gas prices though most consumers are benefiting on the flip side from lower natural gas prices for utility expenses. The net impact to wallets is probably flat for consumers though the media focus is always on gas prices. Not to mention consumers don't readily see nat gas prices. Most likely pay their monthly electric bill without any notice of the fuel charge.
Now the key is whether sentiment has hit the top end of the range or whether a breakout can finally occur. Appears that only 3 months have reported numbers of 75 since March '08. Maybe more stock market gains will finally pull consumers out of the gloom. Not that it really matters for spending. Just something worth watching.
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