For the first time in six months, the Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index stopped rising, falling from 75.0 in January to 72.5 in the first of two readings for February. This follows a decline in the consumer confidence index last week, the first time that the other major gauge of the American mood has declined since last fall.
The current conditions component within the sentiment survey dropped from a lofty 84.2 in January to 79.6 in February while the expectations component fell from 69.1 to 68.0.
Recall that, while these readings are a great improvement from the lows seen last summer as elected officials were debating a debt ceiling increase, they remain levels more often associated with recessions than recoveries as depicted in this graphic from the St. Louis Fed. In fact, during the 2001 recession, consumer sentiment never fell below 80.
Rising optimism about an improving labor market was more than offset by higher gasoline prices (and perhaps the hangover of holiday credit card bills coming due), though higher prices at the pump didn’t show up in the inflation expectations survey as the one-year outlook for the rise in consumer prices fell from 3.2 percent to 3.1 percent while the five-year view of inflation rose two tenths of a percent to 2.9 percent.