The current economic conditions subindex increased to 110 from 108.8 in January and the gauge for consumer expectations went up to 86.2 from 79.9. Inflation expectations for the year ahead declined to 2.5 percent from 2.7 percent and the 5-year outlook dropped to 2.3 percent from 2.6 percent.
The lingering impact of the shutdown was responsible for some of the negative economic evaluations, and, at the time that these interviews were conducted, uncertainty about whether a second shutdown would occur continued to have a slight depressing impact on confidence. Although the majority of consumers expected some additional rate hikes during the year ahead, that proportion has shrunk to the smallest level in the past two years. Perhaps more importantly, consumers' long term inflation expectations fell to the lowest level recorded in the past half century. While nominal income expectations remained at modest levels, consumers more frequently expected gains in their inflation-adjusted incomes in early February than at any other time in more than fifteen years. The data indicate that personal consumption expenditures will remain the strongest sector in the national economy in 2019--up by 2.7% compared with a GDP gain of 2.2%. The data suggest that the Fed will find it even harder to justify another rate hike given the record low inflation expectations; the data will also add to the debate about the evolving relationship between unemployment and inflation as consumers now anticipate lower inflation and higher unemployment.