Wait, Are Consumers in Better Shape Than We Think?


The big macro can cause big moves in the market. What does today's headline macro news mean for your portfolio?

What's happening: In separate reports today, the Commerce Department reported that personal spending increased 0.6% in September and the University of Michigan announced that its closely watched consumer sentiment index climbed from 57.5 to 60.9. The spending numbers were in line with estimates, while the sentiment gauge rose more than anticipated.

In plain English, please: The reports today follow on the heels of The Conference Board's report earlier this week showing that its measure of consumer confidence had fallen to the lowest level since March of 2009. So what gives?

While the U of M's measure may be up more than expected, that gauge has been falling all year and today stands at a level far closer to the depths of the financial crisis than the pre-recession levels. This time last year, the gauge was at 67.7. The big issue at hand? Expectations. While the Current Conditions Index registered a not-quite-as-terrible 75.1, the Index of Consumer Expectations is sitting at a dismal 51.8, which is down from 61.9 this time last year.

As for the spending data, while that may be somewhat good news, personal income rose a mere 0.1%, despite the expectation of a 0.3% gain.

Stocks to watch: As we head into the holiday season, you could really be thinking about any consumer-related company in light of this data. Companies from Sears Holdings (NAS: SHLD) to Best Buy (NYS: BBY) , Coach (NYS: COH) , and Kohl's (NYS: KSS) could be at risk if a somber mood puts a cloud over consumer spending. Of course, knowing the American consumer, I wouldn't count out the possibility of strong holiday shopping through worried, gritted teeth.

Want to keep up to date on these stocks?

At the time thisarticle was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Coach and Best Buy. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Coach. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended writing covered calls in Best Buy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer does not have a financial interest in any of the companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter @KoppTheFool or Facebook. The Fool's disclosure policy prefers dividends over a sharp stick in the eye.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.