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  D.F.'s Column Archive

October 4, 2006

Announcing 85.4 Consumer Happies


Every month since the reign of Henry IV, the University of Michigan has performed studies measuring the nation’s consumer sentiment.


Do you know what “consumer sentiment” is, exactly?


“Why yes, D.F. It’s 85.4.”


No. What does it mean?




Eighty-five-point-four what?


“Uh, well, that would be, 85.4 . . . sentimations!”


You have no idea what consumer sentiment means, do you?


“No. No one does.”


But that doesn’t stop people from attempting to measure it. It doesn’t stop others from trying to predict what it will be. And some people even go so far as to declare themselves unsurprised when the results are surprising.


The U of M researchers say the September “consumer sentiment” figure of 85.4 was surprising insofar as the mood improved more than they expected from August’s comparably dour 82. I remember having an 82-type day a couple weeks ago! Nothing went right. Fortunately the next day was a solid 87, so I’ve put it all behind me – thank you for asking.


In the anticipation-filled days before U of M was to announce its September consumer mood ring color, Wall Street was all aflutter trying to predict what oh what the number would be!


Reuters reports: “The median forecast of Wall Street economists polled by Reuters was for a reading of 85.” When they’re not busy selling off their stocks because Eva Longoria broke up with Tony Parker, they need something to do. So they try to guess whether you have a heart full of happy when you go to buy Doritos.


Aha! They were four-tenths of a point off! I told you these people know nothing, including, it would appear, what English words mean.


“I am not surprised that the consumer confidence is a little bit better than expected,” said James Glassman, chief U.S. economist for J.P. Morgan Chase. He’s not surprised that the results were surprising?


And people believe I say strange things.


Of course, Glassman joins most other economists in theorizing that consumers are in a better mood because gas prices are falling. That may very well be, but are you still thinking about what you paid for gas when you head over to Quiznos for your sub and the kid in the maize and blue Michigan jacket is there to ask you how you’re feelin’ about consumin’?


What do you mean that’s not how they find out? Then how do they? As Glassman admits, whatever it is they do find out doesn’t really tell you anything.


“I am sure that is encouraging,” Glassman said. “But whether that means they spend or not, consumer confidence doesn't tell. It's more of a poll about how people feel about the world.”


That being the case, it seems they could save themselves a lot of time and just boil it down: “Mr. or Ms. Consumer, how do you feel about the world?”


Well, you know, it’s the only hurtling ball we’ve got, but it doesn’t always return my calls, and this has often made me feel resentful . . .


“I’m sorry sir or ma’am. I need that in numerical form.”


Oh, why didn’t you say so? 79.


“Wow. Pretty harsh. Well, make it a great day.”


Then, they could save the rest of us a lot of time and stop telling us about these surveys that mean nothing and tell us nothing. Unless, of course, they want to survey me.


“Beets? Why do they sell beets? Are you taking this down? . . .”


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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