Consumers As Contrarians Indicators

One of the reasons for the market’s tumble late last week was a much worse-than-expected consumer confidence reading. But according to Mark Hulbert and the research of Kenneth Fisher, the decline may actually be a bullish sign.

In his latest MarketWatch column, Hulbert says he recently examined how stocks fared in the month, year, and two-year periods following the release of the Conference Board’s monthly consumer confidence data. His findings: “The biggest monthly jumps in the consumer confidence index were, on average, followed by sub-par returns” for stocks. “Conversely, big drops in the index were typically followed by above-average returns.”

Hulbert also says that the “starkest patterns” in the data “were between monthly changes in the consumer confidence index and how the stock market had performed in prior months. That is, the stock market and consumer confidence tend to rise and fall together. … In other words, focusing on consumer confidence tells us more about how the stock market has performed in recent weeks than it does about the future. But insofar as consumer confidence tells us anything about the future, it’s that big drops are more positive than negative for the stock market.”

These findings are similar to the findings of investment manager Kenneth Fisher and finance professor Meir Statman. In a 2002 study, the duo found that declining stock prices are usually followed by declining consumer confidence, but that low consumer confidence readings are followed by strong stock returns more often than by low returns.

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