Press Release

Consumers Express Continued Optimism about Household Finances, Credit Access and Earnings Growth

February 12, 2018

NEW YORK—The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Center for Microeconomic Data today released the January 2018 Survey of Consumer Expectations, which shows continued improvement in expectations about households' year-ahead financial situation and credit availability, and robust expected earnings growth. Short- and medium-term inflation expectations fell slightly.

The main findings from the January 2018 Survey are:

Inflation

  • Median inflation expectations declined by 0.1% at both the one-year and three-year horizon, to 2.7% and 2.8% in January respectively. The decline was driven by lower income (below $50,000) respondents.
  • Median inflation uncertainty—or the uncertainty expressed by respondents regarding future inflation outcomes—declined at both horizons.
  • Median home price change expectations increased from 3.2% in December to 3.5% in January, its highest reading since May 2017 and well above its trailing 12-month average of 3.2%.
  • The median one-year ahead expected gasoline price change increased from 4.1% in December to 4.3% in January, while expectations for changes in food prices declined from 4.6% to 4.3%. Expectations for changes in the cost of medical care decreased from 9.5% to 9.2%.

                     
Labor Market

  • Median one-year ahead earnings growth expectations increased slightly, reaching a new series' high. Median earnings growth uncertainty increased to a level last seen in August 2016.
  • Mean unemployment expectations—or the mean probability that the U.S. unemployment rate will be higher one year from now—decreased slightly from 33.5% in December to 32.4% in January, a new series' low.
  • Both the mean perceived probability of losing one's job in the next 12 months and the mean probability of leaving one's job voluntarily in the next 12 months increased from 13.8% to 14.9%, and 21.7% to 22.1%, respectively.
  • The mean perceived probability of finding a job (if one's current job was lost) declined slightly from 60.0% in December to 59.7%, falling just 0.4% below its series' high reached in November 2017.
  • The mean probability of changing residence over the next 12 months, which has been falling gradually since reaching 21.4% in November 2013, declined to a new low of 15.9% in January.

Household Finance

  • Median expected household income growth remained unchanged at 2.8% in January, 0.1% above its trailing 12-month average.
  • Median household spending growth expectations remained unchanged at 2.9% in January, just 0.1% below its trailing 12-month average.
  • Expectations for year-ahead credit availability improved in January, with the proportion expecting easing in credit access reaching a new series' high of 24.7%. Perceptions of credit access compared to a year ago also improved with 27.3% of respondents reporting easier credit access compared to a year ago, also a new series' high.
  • The average perceived probability of missing a minimum debt payment over the next three months decreased slightly from 12.5 % in December to 12.3% in January.
  • The median expectation regarding year-ahead change in taxes (at current income level) declined sharply from 2.2% in December to 1.6% in January, a new series low.  A quarter of respondents expect a tax decrease larger than 2.6%. The decline was broad-based, but largest for higher income (over $100,000) respondents.
  • The mean perceived probability that the average interest rate on saving accounts will be higher 12 months from now than it is today increased slightly from 34.5% in December to 34.9% in January.
  • Perceptions of the household's financial situation compared to a year ago, as well as one-year-ahead expectations of the household's financial situation both improved and reached new series' highs, with 38.7% of respondents feeling they are better off and 45.7% expecting to be better off financially, compared to 37.0% and 43.2% in December respectively.
  • The mean perceived probability that U.S. stock prices will be higher 12 months from now than they are today increased slightly from 44.3% in December to 44.9% in January.
  • Median year-ahead expected growth in government debt saw its second consecutive decrease from 7.8% in November to 7.2% in December and to 5.9% in January.  

 
About the Survey of Consumer Expectations

The SCE contains information about how consumers expect overall inflation and prices for food, gas, housing and education to behave. It also provides insight into Americans' views about job prospects and earnings growth and their expectations about future spending and access to credit. The SCE also provides measures of uncertainty in expectations for the main outcomes of interest. Expectations are also available by age, geography, income, education, and numeracy.

The SCE is a nationally representative, internet-based survey of a rotating panel of approximately 1,300 household heads. Respondents participate in the panel for up to twelve months, with a roughly equal number rotating in and out of the panel each month. Unlike comparable surveys based on repeated cross-sections with a different set of respondents in each wave, our panel allows us to observe the changes in expectations and behavior of the same individuals over time.

The survey is conducted on our behalf by The Demand Institute, a non-profit organization jointly operated by The Conference Board and Nielsen. The sampling frame for the SCE is based on that used for The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Survey (CCS). Respondents to the CCS, itself based on a representative national sample drawn from mailing addresses, are invited to join the SCE internet panel.

Contact
Betsy Bourassa
(212) 720-6885
betsy.bourassa@ny.frb.org