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Confidence rebounds: Stock gains offset concerns about economic policies

  • Contact Diane Swanbrow, (734) 647-9069, or Surveys of Consumers, (734) 763-5224 or Thomson Reuters PR Hotline: (646) 223-7222, ext.1

Richard Curtin. Image courtesy of D.C. GoingsRichard Curtin. Image courtesy of D.C. GoingsANN ARBOR--- Consumer confidence rebounded in late November, shaking off the last remnants of the federal shutdown. The November increase was due to an improved outlook for the economy, with the gains primarily among upper income households according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers. Conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) since 1946, the Surveys monitor consumer attitudes and expectations.

Increases in household income and wealth were reflected in more optimistic personal financial assessments among those in the upper third of the income distribution, whereas households in the bottom third reported declines in their incomes as well as negative changes in their net worth, according to Curtin.

ics chart nov13The current state of consumer sentiment is consistent with an economic growth rate slightly above 2 percent, largely stimulated by wealth gains not improvements in jobs and wages. This amounts to continued economic stagnation, which can be defined like the Fed's definition of stable prices, at about 2 percent—the average GDP growth rate in the past few years.

Consumers expect the growth rate in 2014 will be far short of the economy’s potential. The term that best fits the outlook of consumers is stagnation. Richard Curtin

"Consumers expressed lingering concerns over the upcoming Congressional deadline for reaching a settlement on the federal budget and debt ceiling," Curtin said. "While a grand bargain covering both entitlements and taxes could reduce policy uncertainty, it seems far more likely that the only agreement will be to delay a settlement until after the 2014 elections. Consumers expect the growth rate in 2014 will be far short of the economy's potential. The term that best fits the outlook of consumers is stagnation. Consumers' overall assessment of economic prospects is not bad and not good. Economic stagnation is like purgatory, it is neither heaven nor hell."

Personal Financial Assessments Diverge
Households in the top third of the income distribution (incomes above $75,000) reported more recent improvement in their finances, while those in the bottom third (below $35,000) reported virtually unchanged finances. While this gap is wider than usual, the gap in future financial prospects is much narrower than usual. Rather than expecting even greater gains in the future, high-income households did not view their future financial prospects much differently than those with incomes in the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution.

Views of Government Policies Remain Negative
Spontaneous negative references to the government's economic policies were made by 32 percent in November, just below the all-time peak of 37 percent set last month. When directly asked for their views of economic policies, half of all consumers gave unfavorable ratings, nearly equal to the worst level ever recorded in the past half century.

ics table nov13Consumer Sentiment Index
The Sentiment Index was 75.1 in November 2013, between the 73.2 in October and 77.5 in September, but well below last November's 82.7. Most of the recent strength was in the Expectations Index, which rose to 66.8 in November from 62.5 in October, but was below last year's 77.7. The Current Conditions Index was 88.0 in November, just below the 89.9 in October and last November's 90.6.

About the survey
Surveys of Consumers logo
The Surveys of Consumers is a rotating panel survey based on a nationally representative sample that gives each household in the coterminous U.S. an equal probability of being selected. Interviews are conducted throughout the month by telephone. The minimum monthly change required for significance at the 95-percent level in the Sentiment Index is 4.8 points; for Current and Expectations Index the minimum is 6.0 points. For more information, visit the Surveys of Consumers website at


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Established in 1949, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research is the world's largest academic social science survey and research organization, and a world leader in developing and applying social science methodology, and in educating researchers and students from around the world. ISR conducts some of the most widely cited studies in the nation, including the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, the American National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, the world's largest digital social science data archive. For more information, visit the ISR website at

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