Consumers Show Improved Confidence in November but Fear Recession

Consumer Confidence Shows November Recovery

The latest data from The Conference Board showed that consumer confidence rebounded a bit in November.

The question remains as to how long, or whether, the bounce can last.

The overall reading came in at 102, up from the 99.1 seen in October.

But diving deeper into the data revealed some puts and takes.

The Present Situation Index — which the board noted is based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions — was down, albeit slightly, at 138.2 from 138.6.

With a nod to what consumers expect on the horizon, the Expectations Index — based on what the board defined as “consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions”— rose to 77.8 in November, which represents a bump up from 72.7 in October.

Still Expecting a Recession?

A reading below 80 typically signals a recession within the next year.

“[A]round two-thirds of consumers surveyed in November still perceive a recession to be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very likely’ to occur over the next 12 months,” the board said in a statement. “This is consistent with the short and shallow recession we anticipate in the first half of 2024.”

The Conference Board Chief Economist Dana Peterson said in remarks that the share of consumers reporting their financial situations are “good” rose, and those citing their financial situations as “bad” fell, “suggesting consumer finances remain healthy heading into the holiday season.”

But plans to buy cars, homes and big-ticket appliances fell, indicating the lingering impact of high interest rates.

A range of data points from PYMNTS Intelligence signals some throttling back on spending, at least into the holiday season. Turnout increased 10% on Black Friday, but consumers completed just one-fifth of all their holiday shopping, which was down from 22% last year. Roughly 59% of consumers said they spent the same or less than they spent last year in the same time frame, in terms of absolute dollars. Generation Z consumers, notably, were hesitant to open their wallets through Black Friday, as the participation rate was 75% this year, down from 83% last year.

PYMNTS Intelligence also found, separately, that 85% of consumers do not think their wages are matching the pace of inflation. As measured as recently as September, 62% of consumers said they are “very or extremely” concerned about the economy, while 35% stated that there is at least some level of concern about the economy — leaving 2.9% who said they are unconcerned. Sentiment is also less than positive when it comes to inflation, as the individuals PYMNTS surveyed said inflation is unlikely to return to pre-COVID levels until well into the latter months of 2024.

November’s consumer confidence may wind up being a blip higher — or the beginning of a trend — but for now, the caution seems real, and the ringing at the registers may wind up muted.