Working Papers

2004-09 | July 2004

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Consumer Sentiment, the Economy, and the News Media

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The news media affects consumers' perceptions of the economy through three channels. First, the news media conveys the latest economic data and the opinions of professionals to consumers. Second, consumers receive a signal about the economy through the tone and volume of economic reporting. Last, the greater the volume of news about the economy, the greater the likelihood that consumers will update their expectations about the economy. We find evidence that all three of these channels affect consumer sentiment. We derive measures of the tone and volume of economic reporting, building upon the R-word index of The Economist. We find that there are periods when reporting on the economy has not been consistent with actual economic events, especially during the early 1990s. As a consequence, there are times during which consumer sentiment is driven away from what economic fundamentals would suggest. We also find evidence supporting that consumers update their expectations about the economy much more frequently during periods of high news coverage than in periods of low news coverage; high news coverage of the economy is concentrated during recessions and immediately after recessions, implying that "stickiness" in expectations is countercyclical. Finally, because the model of consumer sentiment is highly nonlinear, month-to-month changes in sentiment are difficult to interpret. For instance, although an increase in the number of articles that mention "recession" typically is associated with a decline in sentiment, under certain conditions it can actually result in an increase in various sentiment indexes.

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