U.S. consumer sentiment falls less than forecast in March

Jordan Yadoo

U.S. consumer sentiment fell slightly less than forecast in March amid stock market declines as Americans remained somewhat optimistic in their initial response to the growing coronavirus outbreak.

The University of Michigan’s preliminary sentiment index fell to 95.9 from 101 in February, according to data released Friday that slightly exceeded estimates in Bloomberg’s survey of economists. The gauge ofcurrent conditions fell to 112.5 and theexpectations index fell to 85.3.

“The initial response to the pandemic has not generated the type of economic panic among consumers that was present in the runup to the Great Recession,” Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan consumer survey, said in a statement. “Nonetheless, the data suggest that additional declines in confidence are still likely to occur as the spread of the virus continues to accelerate.”

Curtin said the figures suggest Americans’ early reaction to the public health crisis reflected a perception of the pandemic “as a temporary event.”

The pullback snaps a six-month streak of gains that showed Americans had grown more upbeat as trade tensions with China eased. This month’s first major sentiment report will be followed by a final reading March 27 and the Conference Board’s gauge on March 31. Bloomberg’s Consumer Comfort Index this week posted a sixth-straight drop, the longest such stretch since 2015.

The survey conducted from Feb. 26 through late Wednesday evening captures a period that started with the virus beginning to spread across the country and culminated with the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging into a bear market, the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic and President Donald Trump restricting travel from Europe.