Consumer Sentiment Unexpectedly Sours in November

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Shoppers At Kenwood Town Center As Consumer Sentiment Falls To 10-Month
Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Luciana Lopez

NEW YORK -- U.S. consumer sentiment unexpectedly slipped in November to a near two-year low as lower-income households worried about their job prospects and financial outlooks and negative views of the government lingered, a survey released Friday showed.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary reading on the overall index of consumer sentiment fell to 72.0 in November, its lowest since December 2011. That was lower than both October's final reading of 73.2 and the 74.5 economists had expected this month.

Lower-income households in particular worried about their future financial state. That was a contrast to richer households -- those with incomes above $75,000 -- which felt more optimistic as stock prices increases boosted net wealth gains.

Nevertheless, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%consumers largely remained nearly as negative on government policies as they were last month, when a federal government shutdown prompted worries growth would drag.

The government also came close to breaching its borrowing limit, which compounded the crisis and could have pushed the country closer to an historic debt default.

"Following the end of the shutdown, consumers were somewhat more optimistic about the outlook for the economy, but thus far the rebound has been lackluster," survey director Richard Curtin said in a statement.

The survey's gauge of consumer expectations edged down to 62.3, compared to 62.5 in October and expectations of 64.0.

The index of current conditions slipped to 87.2 from 89.9 last month. Analysts had projected a reading of 90.0.

The one-year inflation expectation rose to 3.1 percent from 3.0 percent, while the five-to-10-year inflation outlook gained to 2.9 percent from 2.8 percent.

9 Numbers That'll Tell You How the Economy's Really Doing
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Consumer Sentiment Unexpectedly Sours in November
The gross domestic product measures the level of economic activity within a country. To figure the number, the Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the total consumption of goods and services by private individuals and businesses; the total investment in capital for producing goods and services; the total amount spent and consumed by federal, state, and local government entities; and total net exports. It's important, because it serves as the primary gauge of whether the economy is growing or not. Most economists define a recession as two or more consecutive quarters of shrinking GDP.
The CPI measures current price levels for the goods and services that Americans buy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects price data on a basket of different items, ranging from necessities like food, clothing and housing to more discretionary expenses like eating out and entertainment. The resulting figure is then compared to those of previous months to determine the inflation rate, which is used in a variety of ways, including cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other government benefits.
The unemployment rate measures the percentage of workers within the total labor force who don't have a job, but who have looked for work in the past four weeks, and who are available to work. Those temporarily laid off from their jobs are also included as unemployed. Yet as critical as the figure is as a measure of how many people are out of work and therefore suffering financial hardship from a lack of a paycheck, one key item to note about the unemployment rate is that the number does not reflect workers who have stopped looking for work entirely. It's therefore important to look beyond the headline numbers to see whether the overall workforce is growing or shrinking.
The trade deficit measures the difference between the value of a nation's imported and exported goods. When exports exceed imports, a country runs a trade surplus. But in the U.S., imports have exceeded exports consistently for decades. The figure is important as a measure of U.S. competitiveness in the global market, as well as the nation's dependence on foreign countries.
Each month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis measures changes in the total amount of income that the U.S. population earns, as well as the total amount they spend on goods and services. But there's a reason we've combined them on one slide: In addition to being useful statistics separately for gauging Americans' earning power and spending activity, looking at those numbers in combination gives you a sense of how much people are saving for their future.
Consumers play a vital role in powering the overall economy, and so measures of how confident they are about the economy's prospects are important in predicting its future health. The Conference Board does a survey asking consumers to give their assessment of both current and future economic conditions, with questions about business and employment conditions as well as expected future family income.
The health of the housing market is closely tied to the overall direction of the broader economy. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, named for economists Karl Case and Robert Shiller, provides a way to measure home prices, allowing comparisons not just across time but also among different markets in cities and regions of the nation. The number is important not just to home builders and home buyers, but to the millions of people with jobs related to housing and construction.
Most economic data provides a backward-looking view of what has already happened to the economy. But the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index attempts to gauge the future. To do so, the index looks at data on employment, manufacturing, home construction, consumer sentiment, and the stock and bond markets to put together a complete picture of expected economic conditions ahead.
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