On the last Tuesday of each month, the Conference Board, a private industry group, releases its consumer confidence report. Today that report was released and it appears U.S. consumers are a bit more cheery than originally thought. At least according to the recent polling. The index rose to 80.7 consumer confidence upfrom the 77.5 from December.

This larger than expected increase puts the existing consumer confidence levels near where they were before all the “government shutdown” mania in late fall. But you might be asking yourself, “Just how does the commerce department measure how confident a consumer is at any moment?” Good question.

Every month, the Board literally surveys 5,000 consumers and asks for opinions on

  • Their view of existing business conditions
  • Business conditions for the coming months
  • The respondent’s employment situation, if they’re out of work and if so how hard it is to find work
  • Employment situation for the next six months, and
  • Total household income for  the next six months

The respondent answers each question with, “negative” “positive” or “neither negative nor positive.” The survey is tallied and analyzed them compared with the previous month and the same month from the previous year.

Some have criticized that the survey is too jaded if the interviewee is paying attention to too much negative news online or on cable T.V. sensationalism. The impact of the internet certainly plays a role in an individual’s attitude but the survey asks for their personal situation. In other words, even in a down economy a respondent who lives next door to someone who has just been laid off but is still gainfully employed might say that the economy isn’t all that good but the personal situation is doing quite well.

The economy is whistling past the graveyard right now with multiple forces having a potential play from unemployment to the Fed to political situations both here and abroad. If we can get through February unscathed, there should be quite a bit of homes switching hands this spring.