Editor’s Note: Gad Levanon leads the Labor Markets Institute at The Conference Board. Lynn Franco is the organization’s senior director of Economic Indicators and Surveys. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own.
Earlier this week, The Conference Board released the results of its Consumer Confidence Index for October.
Most headlines focused on the monthly index’s top-line takeaway, which shows that confidence dipped marginally. But underneath the hood lies a treasure trove of economic data. And when analyzed, it can paint a much more accurate — and much sunnier — picture of the US consumer psyche and the trajectory of the economy.
Is a recession on the horizon?
But what about the actual consumer? After all, their spending accounts for over two-thirds of the US economy.
One part of the index — the Expectations Index — helps shed light on how consumers anticipate the economy performing in the near future. In recent years — and in this week’s results — the Expectations Index has hovered around a healthy 100. For context, the survey hit a high of nearly 126 back in the late ‘60s, and plummeted to about 27 in 2009, when we were in the depths of the financial crisis.
Periods of decline in this area — which has happened in recent months — do not signal recession, as long as the level doesn’t fall too far for too long. A steady decline warrants concern, and if it approaches somewhere in the ballpark of 80, consumers may start raising the red flag.
So when it comes to the growing chatter about a recession, our index suggests it’s just that: all talk. Consumers don’t foresee a recession, at least not anytime soon.
Without a doubt, the US economy has experienced its fair share of jolts this year — especially on the trade front, including new tariffs and the threat of more to come. But consumers have largely weathered the trade tensions, having emerged relatively unscathed. At this point in time, they’re the economy’s last line of defense, propping it up despite a relatively glum business community and what seems like a never-ending string of geopolitical shocks.
Will wage growth start picking up?
The Consumer Confidence Index can also help forecast whether individuals’ wages are likely to grow.