Are U.S. Consumers Putting the Recession in the Rear View Mirror?

Are U.S. Consumers Putting the Recession in the Rear View Mirror?

U.S. consumer confidence increased four index points in the second quarter of 2014 to a score of 104—an upward trend that started in first-quarter 2013. While confidence has climbed 11 points since then, spending levels at retail are still below where they were before the Great Recession.

“In the U.S., positive news for the job, housing and equity markets appears to have buoyed the spirits of Americans,” said James Russo, senior vice president, Global Consumer Insights, Nielsen. “The retail environment for non-durable goods, however, is still catching up. Retail dollar sales of fast-moving consumer goods are up 1.3 percent in latest six months ending June. Consumers are moving ahead slowly, and marketers need to adjust to a new consumer mindset of restraint, which will take time to reverse.”

Americans are thinking positively, however. Nearly half of Americans (49%) believed now is a good/excellent time to spend—the highest level reported since 2006 and up 6 percentage points from the first quarter of 2014 (43%). Optimism about job prospects and personal finances rose in the second quarter as well. While the outlook for jobs (46%) was still below pre-recession levels (63%), the sentiment represents a significant improvement from 2009, when it was at 20 percent. Almost two-thirds of U.S. respondents (64%) said their personal finances were in good order, marking a rise of 5 percentage points from the first quarter.

U.S. Consumers are Looking to Spend, But Still Focused on Saving

Intentions to spend are at the highest level in the U.S. since before the Great Recession (49%), but 62 percent of Americans continue to deploy strategies to save on food, entertainment and household expenses.

An at-a-glance historical view of nine years of spending and saving intentions using the Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Trend Tracker shows an inverse relationship, one marked by a gap that’s closing, but still wide. In 2009, less than one-third (30%) of American respondents said it was a good time buy, and more than three-fourths (78%) said they were taking actions to save on household expenses—a 48-percentage-point gap, compared with a 13-percentage-point gap today.

Other findings include:

  • Global consumer confidence improved to an index of 97.
  • Newly-added sub-Saharan Africa exhibited an increase in consumer confidence.
  • Which countries have climbed out of recessionary lows to meet or eclipse a baseline confidence index of 100.

For more detail and insight, download Nielsen’s Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions.

About the Nielsen Global Survey

The findings in this survey are based on respondents with online access across 60 countries. While an online survey methodology allows for tremendous scale and global reach, it provides a perspective only on the habits of existing Internet users, not total populations. In developing markets where online penetration has not reached majority potential, audiences may be younger and more affluent than the general population of that country. Additionally, survey responses are based on claimed behavior, rather than actual metered data.