Consumers were feeling slightly worse about the US economy in November, amid punishing rate hikes and decades-high inflation, according to a closely followed University of Michigan survey released Friday.
The preliminary index reading from the monthly Surveys of Consumers showed sentiment fell to 54.7, from 59.9 in October. Economists were expecting sentiment levels to tick down to 59.5, according to estimates on Refinitiv.
It’s the lowest reading since this summer when sentiment bottomed out after gas prices hit a record high in June.
The survey showed that sentiment slumped both for current economic conditions as well as for those in the near future.
Sustained high levels of inflation as well as rising interest rates are weighing on consumers, who are also expecting the currently robust labor market to weaken in the year ahead, Surveys of Consumers Director Joanne Hsu told Bloomberg in an interview following the report’s release.
“Consumers don’t think we’re out of the woods yet,” she said.
The survey also showed that consumers’ inflation expectations for this year and five years out remained relatively unchanged. This key data point for the Federal Reserve showed that the median expected year-ahead inflation rate was 5.1%, up from 5% last month. Long-run expectations were at 3%, holding in the same 2.9% to 3.1% range for 15 of the past 16 months, according to the data.
The Fed is closely watching for shifts in consumer expectations to determine if inflation is becoming entrenched in the United States: If consumers believe prices will remain high, that could factor in to increased wage demands which, in turn, could cause businesses to raise prices.
Very few consumers are front-loading purchases to avoid higher interest rates in the future, indicating that inflation expectations aren’t worsening, Hsu said.
“Consumers are not really showing strong signs of inflationary psychology or entrenched expectations,” she said during the interview.
The data for the surveys was collected prior to the midterm elections as well as Thursday’s better-than-expected Consumer Price Index, which showed inflation slowed to 7.7% in October, falling further than expected and sending stocks surging on the news.
“It’s possible that we could be at an inflection point, but we really have to see if these trends are going to be sustained,” Hsu said.
Final sentiment data for this month will be released Nov. 23.