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Consumer Optimism Highest in Nearly 4 Years: New York Fed

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Last month, consumers reported the highest level of financial optimism since June 2013, according to the Survey of Consumer Expectations by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Expectations for household income growth and overall financial situation reached a record high, while spending expectations fell to their lowest point.

The SCE surveys a rotating panel of about 1,200 households every month. Respondents are chosen from those who responded to The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Survey.

Household income expectations were up slightly to 2.8% from 2.5% in March, while expectations for their overall financial situation reached a new high. Over 44% of respondents expect to be better off financially in one year than they are now, and just 11% say they will be worse off.

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Household spending expectations fell to 2.6%, the lowest level since the survey was started in June 2013. There was some concern among respondents about their ability to meet debt obligations. Twelve percent said there was a chance they could miss a minimum payment over the next three months, a one-point increase over March.  

Uncertainty over inflation fell, as consumers reported they believe inflation will tick up to a median 2.8% from 2.7% over the next year. Their three-year outlook for inflation puts it at 2.9% by 2020.

Respondents expect a similar small increase in home prices, reporting a median increase of 3.4% in April, up from 3.3% in March. Home price expectations have remained fairly stable since July 2015, with respondents sticking to a range of 3% to 3.3%. Home price expectations have followed a downward trend since the survey launched in July 2013, when respondents expected a median 4.59% change in home prices.

(Related: Homebuyers, Sellers Both Raring to Go)

Although expectations for the cost of medical care, rent, college education and food were stable, respondents expect a 4.6% change in gas prices.  

Consumers are also more confident about their job security. Concerns about losing a job fell from 14.5% to 13.2% in April. The report noted the decrease occurred across all age groups, and education and income levels. Respondents also said they were less likely to leave their jobs.

However, the report did find an increase in unemployment expectations. The survey found the mean probability of an increase in unemployment rose one percentage point to 36.5% from its 20-month low. Furthermore, among respondents who had lost their job, the mean probability of finding a new one fell from 59.3% to 56.5%. Younger and less educated respondents were especially likely to be concerned about finding a new job.

— Check out 6 Investing Themes Reshaping the Future on ThinkAdvisor.