The current economic conditions sub-index went down to 113.9 from 116.5 in June while the gauge measuring consumer expectations edged up to 86.4 from 86.3. Inflation expectations for the year ahead edged down to 2.9 percent from 3 percent and the 5-year outlook for inflation slowed to 2.4 percent from 2.6 percent.
Consumer sentiment slipped in early July but remained nearly equal to the average in the prior twelve months (97.7) and since the start of 2017 (97.4). The continuing strength has been due to favorable job and income prospects, with consumers under age 45 anticipating the largest income gains since July 2000. So far, the strength in jobs and incomes has overcome higher inflation and interest rates. The darkening cloud on the horizon, however, is due to rising concerns about the potential negative impact of tariffs on the domestic economy. Negative concerns about the impact of tariffs have recently accelerated, rising from 15% in May, to 21% in June, and 38% in July (see the chart). Among those in the top third of the income distribution (who account for half of consumer spending), 52% negatively mentioned the impact of tariffs on the economy in early July. The primary concerns expressed by consumers were a decline in the future pace of economic growth and an uptick in inflation. Among those who expressed negative views of the tariffs, the Expectations Index was 30.5 points below those who made no mention of tariffs, and in addition, the expected inflation rate was six-tenths of a percentage point higher. While consumers may not understand the intricacies of trade theory, they have substantial experience making decisions about the timing of discretionary purchases based on prospective trends in prices.