The Forecasting Power of Consumer Attitudes for Consumer Spending
A subsequent version of this paper has been published in the Journal of Money, Credit and Banking.
The widely studied Reuters/Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment is constructed from the answers to five questions from the more comprehensive Reuters/Michigan Surveys of Consumers. Yet little work has been done on what predictive power the information taken from this more thorough compilation of consumer attitudes and expectations may have for forecasting consumption expenditures. The authors construct a limited set of real-time summary measures for 42 questions selected from these broader Surveys corresponding to three broad economic determinants of consumption-income and wealth, prices, and interest rates, and then use regression analysis to evaluate and test the ability of these summary measures to predict future changes in real consumer expenditures, even when controlling for current and future fundamentals. They explain a nontrivial portion of consumption and other real activity forecast errors from professional forecasts. This is consistent with these measures' ability to predict consumption even when conditioning on a broader set of fundamentals as well as professional forecasters' judgmental forecast adjustments.