Consumer confidence surveys point in opposite directions

This morning the consumer confidence survey from the Conference Board soared to the highest level since October 2000. The confidence index reading at 133.4 for August (up from 127.9 in July) beat all forecasts from economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The present conditions index climbed to 172.2, the highest since December 2000. The consumer expectations index rose to a six-month high of 107.6 from 102.4.

Puzzlingly, the surge in this confidence index came after a drop in the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index, which fell in August to its lowest level in almost a year.

The two surveyed showed head to head disagreement on consumer spending plans. For example, the Conference Board survey had a greater number of consumers anticipating big-ticket purchases. That contrasts with a drop in the Michigan survey in expectations for big-ticket purchases.

Maybe there’s nothing more here than understandable confusion in consumers’ minds about the course of the U.S. economy amidst all the news of tariffs and trade wars.

But maybe the conflicting views in the two surveys show what I’d call a hesitant optimism. For example, Consumers may indeed be looking forward to a faster pace of big-ticket purchases–unless the Federal Reserve or those trade wars or something slow the economy.

And then it would be time to revise plans.

Which would be the consumer version of the current investor attitude toward the stock market–look for future upside but keep an eye on the exit door.