Consumer Sentiment Declines 5.0% in Early March

Ann Arbor, MI, March 13, 2020--Consumer sentiment fell to 95.9 in early March, a 5.0% decline from February’s 101.0 rate, according to preliminary estimates by the University of Michigan Survey of Consumers.

This represents a 2.5% decline year over year.

“Consumer sentiment fell in early March due to the spreading coronavirus and the steep declines in stock prices,” says Survey of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin. “Importantly, the initial response to the pandemic has not generated the type of economic panic among consumers that was present in the runup to the Great Recession. Nonetheless, the data suggest that additional declines in confidence are still likely to occur as the spread of the virus continues to accelerate. Perhaps the most important factor limiting consumers' initial reactions is that the pandemic is widely regarded as a temporary event. The component of the Sentiment Index that posted the greatest loss involved judgements about prospects for the economy during the year ahead; this component fell by 29 points, accounting for 83% of the total point decline in early March. In sharp contrast, consumers more favorably judged the economic outlook over the next five years than last month. While the most effective containment efforts are widespread closures and self-isolation, those same actions have the largest negative impact on the economy and significantly increase the probability that the pandemic will be followed by a recession that lasts longer than the virus. The best policy antidote would be immediate relief provided by multiple sources of cash transfers and debt forbearance. To avoid a recession, speed is more essential than targeting. Moreover, maintaining confidence in the effectiveness of economic policies is essential, otherwise the intended behavioral reactions on spending may not be forthcoming.”