It's rare to see this much volatility in the consumer sentiment report which ends March at 78.6 vs a mid-month reading of 71.8. The final reading implies a mid-80s pace for the final two weeks of the month which is the very strongest pace of the whole recovery! As is, the 78.6 level is up 1 point from February for the fourth highest reading of the recovery, behind low 80 readings late last year and a 79-plus reading back in May.
The current conditions component, at 90.7, is a recovery best and points to strength for March economic data including the employment report and perhaps the retail sales report. Less strong is the expectations component at 70.8 which is well down from nearly 80 readings late last year though it is up six tenths from February. A separate reading on the 12-month economic outlook, at 85, is down 2 points from February though it is up 15 points from mid-month.
Inflation expectations are easing in line with easing pressure at the gas pump. One-year expectations are at 3.2 percent, down 1 tenth from both the mid-month reading and the final February reading. Five-year expectations are at 2.8 percent, down 1 tenth from mid-month and down 2 tenths from February.
The dramatic surge the last two weeks in this report is difficult to explain. Though economic data have been strong lately and the stock market is at record highs, the gain nevertheless may be tied to volatility in the report itself. In any case, the final results show a slight firming in month-to-month sentiment that contrasts with other readings on the consumer, including the weekly Bloomberg consumer comfort report and especially the Conference Board's monthly consumer confidence report which shows significant weakness this month.
In sum, the consumer is generally reporting ongoing strength in the economy but is less upbeat about the outlook, the result no doubt of higher payroll taxes and uncertainty over the effects of sequestration.