In the United States, there’s a mounting sense of uncertainty gnawing at the corners of Main Street. Despite the rosy outlook demonstrated by President Biden and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, the average American doesn’t share their optimism. Unfortunately, consumer confidence has nosedived, dragging its weary feet through the sizzling tarmac of the economy’s sun-scorched landscape.
Winds of Change Blowing Through Consumer Confidence
In August, consumer confidence significantly dropped from a revised 114.0 down to 106.1, shattering hopes for a slight increase to 116. These figures don’t just erupt from some economic volcano. They reflect the very blood and sweat of the American everyman and everywoman, putting forth their sentiments about the economy’s current health—a thermometer that registers the economy’s fever.
The Present Situation Index—which examines public sentiment on current business and labor conditions—dropped dramatically from 153.0 to 144.8. The economic weather vane seems to spin relentlessly in the whirlwind of economic turbulence, signaling turbulent times ahead according to the Expectation Index. This index forecasts the public’s short-term outlook on income, business, and overall labor market conditions. Alarmingly, it fell to 80.2 in August, reversing July’s encouraging uptick.
An Expectations Index south of 80 traditionally raises the red flag of an impending recession. Such a warning can send shivers up the spine of the most seasoned investors – look out, there’s a storm brewing!
August: A Bitter Pill to Swallow
Analyzing the dismal data from August, chief economist at the Conference Board, Dana Peterson, noted that the decline wiped out the consecutive increases seen in June and July. Consumers started tightening their belts, their confidence halting like a pulse in the face of overwhelming price inflation and rising gasoline prices. And guess who bore the brunt the most? Consumers earning above $100,000 or less than $50,000! Yet, those nestled within the $50,000-$99,999 bracket remained relatively unfazed.
Consumer confidence hasn’t bounced back to its prime pre-pandemic levels. The dismal dance of uncertainty echoes through the market streets. The villain behind this unexpected act? Inflation and the rising cost of staple goods like groceries and fuel. No amount of data trickery can mask the reality of what consumers experience at the checkout counters or gas stations. It’s a bitter pill to swallow as we realize that, despite our hopes, inflation isn’t beat—it’s just been ducking and weaving.
A Shadow Over the Future of Jobs
Responding to the shifting sands of the labor landscape, more people feel jobs are “hard to get”, and congruently, fewer people perceive jobs as being “plentiful”. Wage increases have lost steam, and the number of weeks of unemployment is creeping higher. Yet, against this dreary backdrop, an oddly upbeat narrative persists. The ‘Perceived Likelihood of a US Recession over the Next 12 Months’ has declined to a record low for 2023.
So, where does this leave the typical American and potential investors?
Well, the best investors always latch onto the greatest uncertainties. If the mainstream settings predict a gloomy season for the economy, maybe that’s the twist in the tale you need – an opportunity to put faith where others fear. Whether it’s buying stocks when they’re undervalued or investing in sectors that others overlook, the fruits of an investor’s labor often bloom in the most unpredictable weather. But remember, scrutiny should be your companion in navigating these uncertain undercurrents.
After all, the lullaby of a soft landing will only comfort us for so long before the wakeup call of reality rings in our ears.