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Consumer sentiment falls even as S&P hits record, Dow +18K

Northwest, Midwest drive down index

Consumer optimism slipped in early February due to renewed concerns over employment and wage growth as well as a diminished outlook for the domestic economy.

The February decline was larger among residents of the Northeast and Midwest, who had to cope with unusually harsh winter storms, while residents of the South posted modest increases in confidence. Low gas prices have especially helped lower income households, although consumers now widely anticipate that gas prices will edge upward during the year ahead.

The small reversals in early February are hardly sufficient to alter last month's more favorable forecast that real personal consumption expenditures will grow by 3.3% in 2015.

The fall back for the index is divided about equally between the two components, current conditions at 103.1 versus 109.3 and expectations at 87.5 versus 91. The dip for current conditions points to possible slowing in consumer activity this month, while the dip in expectations points to a little less optimism in the outlooks for jobs and income.

Gas prices are low but haven't been falling any further this month. One-year inflation expectations are up a sizable three-tenths to 2.8%, which however is still low for this reading. In an offset, 5-year expectations are down one-tenth to 2.7%.

The prior spike for consumer sentiment offered a leading indication on gains in the jobs market but not on consumer spending which is still flat. And today's report doesn't point to any improvement.

These results will lower expectations for the consumer confidence index at month's end, a separate report that also posted an outsized spike in January. The Dow is moving off opening highs.

The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index held on to its very strong surge at the beginning of the month, ending January at 98.1 versus the mid-month reading of 98.2 and compared against 93.6 in December.

The current conditions component extended its first half gain to 109.3 versus 108.3 at mid-month and against 104.8 in December. The comparison with December points to strength for January consumer activity. The expectations component ended January at 91 versus 91.6 at mid-month and 86.4 in December.

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