The gauge for current conditions fell further to 111.8 from a preliminary of 113.3 and 114.9 in April. Also, the expectations subindex came in at 89.1, lower than 89.5 in the preliminary estimate but above 88.4 in April. Inflation expectations for the year ahead edged up to 2.8 percent from 2.7 percent in April, in line with the preliminary reading. The 5-year outlook for inflation was unchanged at 2.5 percent.
Consumer sentiment slipped by less than an Index-point from last month. Since Trump's election, the Sentiment Index has meandered in a tight eight-point range from 93.4 to 101.4, with the small month-to-month variations indicating no emerging trend. Consumers have remained focused on expected gains in jobs and incomes as well as anticipated increases in interest rates and inflation during the year ahead. As past expansions have shown, rising interest rates do not suppress spending gains as long as they are accompanied by more substantial increases in incomes. The May survey, however, found that consumers anticipated smaller income gains than a month or year ago, even though they anticipate the unemployment rate to stabilize at its current eighteen year low. Importantly, references to discounted prices for durables, vehicles, and homes fell to decade lows. Coupled with higher interest rates, it is likely that the pace of growth in personal consumption will remain at about 2.6% during the year ahead.
When asked to explain how their personal finances had changed, the proportion that spontaneously cited higher prices worsening their financial situation has shown a close correspondence with actual trends in the year-over-year change in the CPI-see the chart. That close relationship ended about a decade ago, and in the past year or so, as the CPI has risen, complaints about inflation have fallen. While the reasons underlying the current divergence are unclear, it nonetheless signals a change in how consumers judge the impact of inflation on their personal finances. It may also suggest a change in their behavioral reaction to inflation.