Economic Report: U.S. consumer sentiment improves a bit in November

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A woman carries a shopping bag as she exits an Old Navy store in the Herald Square neighborhood of Manhattan

The numbers: The U.S. consumer sentiment survey rose slightly to 95.7 this month from 95.5 in October, the University of Michigan said Friday in a preliminary estimate.

Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast a reading of 95.

What happened: According to the University of Michigan, a gauge of consumers’ views on current conditions declined to 110.9 in November from 113.2 in October, while a barometer of their expectations rose to 85.9 from 84.2.

Big picture: Economists follow readings on confidence to look for clues about consumer spending, the backbone of the economy. Consumer spending is even more important now that business investment has slumped. Sentiment has moved higher after a sharp drop in August. Economists say low interest rates have bolstered the outlook for households.

A reading of inflation expectations, the 5-to-10 year measure rose a tenth to 2.4%, at the lower end of recent range but stable. The index is closely watched by the Federal Reserve, which views declining consumer assumptions of falling inflation as a signal of a weak economic outlook.

What the UMich researchers said: “Although consumers have become somewhat more cautious spenders, they see no reason to engage in the type of retrenchment that causes recessions,” said Richard Curtin, the surveys of consumers chief economist.

What outside economists said: “The mood of the consumer remains little changed. Given their relative optimism, that’s not a bad thing, particularly against the range of uncertainties that the economy has been facing in recent months,” said JIm Baird, chief investment officer for Plante Moran Financial Advisors.

Market reaction: Stocks opened lower on fresh uncertainty about progress on a trade deal with China. The Dow Jones Industrial DJIA, -0.16%  as down 57 points in early trading after President Trump said he has not yet agreed to roll back tariffs on China.