U.S. consumer confidence retreats markedly in August, close to levels signaling recession

The numbers: The index of U.S. consumer confidence dipped to 106.1 in August from a revised 114 in the prior month, the Conference Board said Tuesday.

Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a modest pullback to 116 from the initial reading of 117, which was the highest level in two years.

The revised July reading was the highest since December 2021.

Key details: Part of the survey that tracks how consumers feel about current economic conditions fell to 114.8 this month from 153 in July. 

A gauge that assesses what Americans expect over the next six months dropped to 80.2 from 88. The August reading is just above to 80 level that historically signals a recession within the next year.

Big picture: The tight labor market had bolstered confidence in June and July. The decline in August reverses all of those gains. The index is still 10.8 points above the recent cycle low in July 2022.

Economists think that higher gasoline prices were behind some of the decline in August. The price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline is up 19.6% from the start of the year and over 2% from last month.

What the Conference Board said: The organization said it still expects a recession before the end of the year.

“Write-in responses showed that consumers were once again preoccupied with rising prices in general, and for groceries and gasoline in particular,” said Dana Peterson, chief economist at The Conference Board.

What are they saying?  “The August drop does not definitively end the upward trend in place since last summer, and the expectations index still points to faster growth in real consumption spending. We are not convinced, however, in part because some of the strength in July retail sales was due to boost from Amazon Prime Day, which won’t continue, and because near-real-time indicators of discretionary services spending paint a much less upbeat picture,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Robert Frick, corporate economist with Navy Federal Credit Union, said he didn’t think confidence would rise significantly until inflation falls further.

Market reaction: Stocks

were trading higher on Tuesday. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note
fell to 4.16%.

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