Following a succession of improving metrics that helped the nation's gross domestic product expand by 2.8% in last year's fourth quarter, the widespread expectation had been that other upbeat statistics would follow. And we still expect that to be the case early on in the New Year. That said, however, the first reading covering the month of January, the Consumer Confidence Index, a metric issued by the Conference Board, a private research-based organization, was not especially uplifting. However, it probably was not a significant setback for the economy.
Specifically, the Conference Board reported that its Consumer Confidence Index came in at 61.1 for the month of January (1985=100), down from an upwardly revised level of 64.8 in December (Initially, the December score had been reported at 64.5.) Expectations had been that this metric would have increased to 68 in the now-ending month. Such an increase would have been logical as the stock market has enjoyed a bullish run so far this year and the employment picture has been brightening. Higher stock prices and better employment metrics often lead to an increase in consumer confidence and, ultimately, to a pickup in consumer spending.
Meanwhile, the Present Situation Index declined rather sharply from 46.5 to 38.4. The Expectation Index, which is more forward looking, and often tends to get a higher score, also eased, falling from December's reading of 77.0, to 76.2 in January.
According to Lynn Franco, the Director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, ``Consumer confidence retreated in January, after large back-to-back gains in the final two months of 2011. Consumers' assessment of current business and labor market conditions turned more downbeat and is back to November 2011 levels.''
The one piece of better news in this generally disappoint report was that consumers' outlook for the labor market was moderately more favorable. Specifically, those expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased to 16.2 percent from 14.0 percent in December, while those anticipating fewer jobs declined from 20.2 percent to 19.5 percent.
This latter improvement aside, the overall report was somewhat disappointing, although the aggregate level of confidence, at 61.1, is sufficient for us to conclude that the latest trend here is not a game changer for the economy as a whole, although it does imply, as we suspected, that growth in the current three months will fall somewhat short of the 2.8% fourth-quarter GDP increase noted above.