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Consumer sentiment in US jumps to 14-year high after tax cuts

[WASHINGTON] Consumer sentiment in March unexpectedly jumped to a 14-year high after tax cuts boosted disposable incomes, while new tariffs boosted inflation expectations and dimmed the outlook, a University of Michigan survey showed Friday.

Highlights of Michigan Sentiment (March, Preliminary) Sentiment index rose to 102 (est. 99.3) from 99.7 in Feb.

Current conditions gauge, which measures Americans' perceptions of their finances, advanced to 122.8, highest in data back to 1946, from 114.9 Expectations measure decreased to 88.6 from 90 Key Takeaways The advance in confidence should help underpin consumer spending, the biggest part of the US economy, after a report earlier this week showed a sluggish start to the year for retail sales. A tightening labor market, rising home prices and tax cuts enacted in December are supporting optimism among Americans.

At the same time, the direction of sentiment was split. Respondents in the bottom third of household income posted a 15.7-point gain in the index, while the top third recorded a 7.3-point decline. In addition, President Donald Trump's tariffs on imported steel and aluminum earned unfavorable mentions in the survey at roughly the same rate as favorable mentions of the tax cuts.

Tariffs dimmed respondents' prospects for the economy and helped raise inflation expectations, according to the report. Also, respondents' expected gains in incomes in the year ahead fell to 1.8 per cent from 2.2 per cent. All of the decline in expected income gains came among respondents in the top third of incomes.

Even so, positive sentiment dominated the latest survey: 59 per cent of respondents cited recent financial progress, the most since the survey began in 1946, while the share citing income gains rose to a five-decade high.

"While income gains are anticipated by consumers, the March survey found that the size of the expected income increase returned to the lows recorded in the past year," Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan consumer survey, said in a statement.