Consumer Confidence Soared in May, Unshaken by Trade War Escalation

President Trump
The Associated Press

U.S. consumer confidence jumped higher in May, returning to near its highest levels in the 21st Century, according to The University of Michigan’s Conference Board.

The Conference Board’s index of consumer confidence rose to 134.1, well above expectations. This was the second consecutive monthly improvement for the index.

“Consumer Confidence posted another gain in May and is now back to levels seen last Fall when the Index was hovering near 18-year highs,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board.

A survey of consumer sentiment released in mid-May also showed improvement, rising to the highest level since 2004. But that survey was largely taken before the escalation of tariffs on Chinese goods. Many economists had expected the tariffs hikes and stock market volatility to somewhat depress sentiment.

The University of Michigan, which conducted the earlier survey, said at the time that “negative references to tariffs rose in the past week and are likely to rise further in late May and June.”

That did not show up in the Conference Board’s index. In fact, the jump in sentiment appears to confirm information gleaned from surveys of manufacturers by the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks, which both showed an economic rebound after a soft April. A third survey, from the Kansas City Fed, indicated continued sluggishness.

The Dallas Fed will release its survey of manufacturers later Tuesday.

“Consumers expect the economy to continue growing at a solid pace in the short-term, and despite weak retail sales in April, these high levels of confidence suggest no significant pullback in consumer spending in the months ahead.”

Consumers’ assessment of present-day conditions improved again in May. Both the view of business conditions and the labor market became more positive in the month. The share of consumers stating jobs are “plentiful” rose from 46.5 percent to 47.2 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” fell from 13.3 percent to just 10.9 percent.

Consumers outlook for future business conditions and jobs also improved. Income expectations were mixed, with the share of consumers saying they expect their income to rise in the next six months going from 21.5 percent to 22.6 percent while the percentage expecting an income decline also went up from 6.8 to 8.2 percent.

The improvement in consumer confidence could bolster the Trump administration’s resolve in the trade dispute with China. Despite all the negative publicity in the mainstream media about the trade war, consumers were unshaken.

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