The stock market rally from soaring consumer sentiment has already happened


The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment survey provides yet another reason to worry about U.S. stocks and the economy.

Consumer sentiment is a contrarian indicator, and the latest University of Michigan (UMI) gauge shows consumer sentiment to have spiked in recent months. The increase from June to the (preliminary) July level is the largest since December 2005. Over the last year the sentiment measure has jumped 21.1 percentage points, which is one of the biggest 12-month jumps since this monthly survey began in 1978.

Past jumps as big as this were followed by below-average performance, as you can see from the accompanying table. The cutoff for being among the 5% of months with the biggest trailing-12-month increases was 17 percentage points, so the jump represented by July’s preliminary reading is well within this subset. The S&P 500

performance numbers reflect inflation-adjusted total return.

S&P 500 average performance over subsequent month

S&P 500 average performance over subsequent 3 months

S&P 500 average performance over subsequent 12 months

All months since 1978




Following the 5% of months with the largest 12-month increases in the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment gauge




While you might be surprised that soaring consumer sentiment isn’t consistently followed by above-average stock market returns, you shouldn’t be. Consumer sentiment is more of a coincident than a leading indicator. This has been well-illustrated by this past year, as investors simultaneously became more upbeat and bought equities — which, in turn, propelled the market higher. Therefore, the higher stock market you’d expect from soaring consumer sentiment has already happened.

The reason that this soaring sentiment leads to below-average subsequent returns is that we tend to overreact. When we become upbeat, we have a tendency to become exuberant. When we become less optimistic, we often become despondent. These overreactions typically are followed by at least some correction, as contrarian analysis teaches us.

Consider one year ago: The UMI sentiment index at that time was plunging; its 12-month decline from June 2021 to June 2022 was the worst of any since 1978. Yet here we are today, with the S&P 500 on a total-return basis 20% higher.

Today’s sentiment picture is almost the mirror opposite of where it was then. Bulls take note.

Mark Hulbert is a regular contributor to MarketWatch. His Hulbert Ratings tracks investment newsletters that pay a flat fee to be audited. He can be reached at [email protected]

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