Shoppers are feeling pessimistic and saving to weather the storm. Or optimistic and spending — on seemingly everything but fashion. Or just kind of floating somewhere in between.
In what’s been a yo-yo year of a generally improving economy and sluggish apparel spending, the latest reading of consumer sentiment is a negative one.
The Conference Board’s widely watched Consumer Confidence Index fell this month, dropping to 92.6 from 94.7 in April. Both components of the index were in retreat, with The Present Situation Index decreasing to 112.9 from 117.1 and The Expectations Index down to 79 from 79.7.
“Consumer confidence declined slightly in May, primarily due to consumers rating current conditions less favorably than in April,” said Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “Expectations declined further, as consumers remain cautious about the outlook for business and labor market conditions. Thus they continue to expect little change in economic activity in the months ahead.”
The Conference Board’s read is in direct conflict with the Index of Consumer Sentiment from The University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers, which showed that sentiment shot up to 94.7 this month from 89 last month.That boost broke a four-month run of declines for that survey and gave heart to at least some investors hoping that retail would break out of the doldrums soon.
Richard Curtin, chief economist of the Surveys of Consumers, noted last week that: “Despite the meager GDP growth as well as a higher inflation rate, consumers became more optimistic about their financial prospects and anticipated a somewhat lower inflation rate in the years ahead. The biggest uncertainty consumers see on the horizon is not whether the Fed will hike interest rates in the next few months, but the outlook for future government economic policies under a new president.”
Retail stocks had an uneven start on Wall Street after the long holiday weekend on Tuesday, but dipped more decidedly into turned negative territory around noon.
The S&P 500 Retailing Industry Group was off 0.2 percent to 1,296.77 in early afternoon trading.
The debate as to whether or not consumer sentiment improved last month might feel academic for big retailers, most of which turned in tough first-quarter earnings reports this month and have taken a cautious tack for the future.
A broad swath of retailers — including J. Crew Group Inc., Tiffany & Co., Macy’s Inc., Aéropostale Inc. and more — have all in their own way illustrated just how fickle the consumer can be and how competitive the landscape has become.
Next up to bat is Michael Kors Holdings, which weighs in with its quarterly results Wednesday.