Consumer Sentiment Rises More Than Forecast in April

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consumer sentiment up more than expected in April
Al Behrman/AP
By Rodrigo Campos

NEW YORK -- U.S. consumer sentiment rose in April to a nine-month high as views on current and near-term conditions surged, a survey released Friday showed.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's final April reading on the overall index of consumer sentiment came in at 84.1, beating an expectation of 83 in a Reuters survey and up from 80 the month before. The preliminary April reading was 82.6.

The headline number was the highest reading since July 2013.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%"Perhaps the more important question is whether consumer confidence will show greater resistance to the backslides that have repeatedly occurred in the past few years," survey director Richard Curtin said in a statement.

"Resilience is dependent on positive long term economic expectations. While near term expectations have improved substantially, longer term expectations for personal finances as well as the overall economy have not improved as much."

The survey's barometer of current economic conditions rose to 98.7, its highest reading since July 2007, from 95.7 in March and above a forecast of 97.2. The preliminary reading came in at 97.1.

The survey's gauge of consumer expectations rose to 74.7 in April from 70 in March and above an expected 73.7. It also beat the preliminary reading for this month which was 73.3.

The survey's one-year inflation expectation was unchanged from the March reading at 3.2 percent and a tick above the 3.1 percent in the preliminary April reading. The survey's five-to-10-year inflation outlook was also unchanged from last month at 2.9 percent after edging up to 3 in the preliminary report.

9 Numbers That'll Tell You How the Economy's Really Doing
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Consumer Sentiment Rises More Than Forecast in April
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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