Consumer confidence rose in May from April, but fell from its mid-month reading two weeks ago, the University of Michigan said Friday.
The Surveys of Consumers’ index of consumer sentiment came in at a reading of 100 for May, up from 97.2 in April, the university said in its report. That was below the 102.4 print reported on May 17, and Econoday had expected a reading of 101.5. The index was at 98 a year ago.
The current economic conditions measure slipped 2% in May from the month before to 110.0 and fell 1.6% year-over-year. The index of consumer expectations rose 7% on a monthly basis to 93.5 and was up 4.9% from April 2018.
“Although consumer sentiment remained at very favorable levels, confidence significantly eroded in the last two weeks of May,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist of surveys of confidence. “The late-month decline was due to unfavorable references to tariffs, spontaneously mentioned by 35% of all consumers in the last two weeks of May, up from 16% in the first half of May and 15% in April and equal to the peak recorded last July in response to the imposition of tariffs.”
Curtin said year-ahead inflation expectations rose to 2.9% in May from 2.5% last month as expectations for inflation gains were recorded prior to actual increases in consumer prices due to the tariff bump.
Expectations for higher inflation slightly cut real income forecasts, with “the largest impact on buying conditions for appliances and other large household durables, which fell to their lowest level in four years.”
Higher inflation and a slowing pace of spending will show clashing signals for monetary policy, Curtin said, and will widen if the trade dispute gets worse.
“Will the Fed risk higher inflation by lowering rates, or risk higher unemployment by raising rates?” Curtin said. “The dilemma comes at a time when consumers have expressed the highest level of confidence since 2002 in the government’s ability to keep both inflation and unemployment at reasonably low levels. Consumers now judge economic security more important than a faster pace of growth in their personal incomes or household wealth.”