US Consumer Sentiment Holds Steady as Focus Turns to Election

(Bloomberg) -- US consumer sentiment mostly held steady in early March as Americans grew somewhat more cautious about the outlook ahead of the presidential election.

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The sentiment index ticked down to 76.5 from 76.9 in February, according to the preliminary March reading from the University of Michigan. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 77.1.

Consumers expect prices will climb at an annual rate of 3% over the next year, unchanged from the prior month, data Friday showed. They still see costs rising 2.9% over the next five to 10 years.

Sentiment has been generally looking up as inflation largely retreats and the job market remains strong. But after Joe Biden and Donald Trump essentially secured their nominations this week, Americans are now waiting for the election to get a better sense of the economic outlook, said Joanne Hsu, director of the survey.

“Consumer views have stabilized into a holding pattern,” Hsu said in a statement. “Many are withholding judgment about the trajectory of the economy, particularly in the long term, pending the results of this November’s election.”

Sentiment improved notably among both Republicans and Democrats, but it fell for independent voters by the most since August 2021.

Data earlier this week showed inflation pressures intensified in February, but Hsu said consumers aren’t worried that prices will reaccelerate. However, nearly a quarter of respondents mentioned food prices, the most since July 2022, when inflation was near its peak.

The current conditions gauge was unchanged from February while a measure of expectations fell slightly. While consumers felt confident about their personal finances, they were less upbeat about economic prospects.

--With assistance from Kristy Scheuble and Vince Golle.

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