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The January 2016 Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE) results indicate that median inflation expectations at both the one-year ahead and the three-year ahead horizons fell in January, with both reaching their lowest levels since the inception of the survey. Median expected changes in gasoline prices, medical care costs and the cost of a college education all declined. On the other hand, median expected earnings and spending growth both increased slightly, while median household income growth expectations were marginally lower. The mean perceived probability of finding a job (if one’s current job were lost) increased slightly, maintaining its gradual upward trend over the past two years.

The main findings from the January 2016 Survey are:


  • Median inflation expectations declined slightly at the one-year horizon (from 2.5 in December to 2.4 percent) and markedly at the three-year ahead horizon (from 2.8 in December to 2.5 percent). The 75th percentile of expected three-year ahead inflation declined 0.2 percentage points to 4.9 percent, its lowest level since the data series began in June 2013. The decline was concentrated among younger and older household heads, and those with lower education and income.
  • Median inflation uncertainty (that is, the uncertainty expressed by respondents regarding future inflation outcomes) increased at both the one-year and the three-year ahead horizons, retreating from their series lows in both cases.
  • Median home price change expectations remained stable at 3.0 percent in January.
  • Year ahead expected gasoline price change expectations dropped noticeably, with the median falling from 4.2 percent to 2.8 percent, returning to the low levels observed in fall 2014 and suggesting that respondents see current low prices as more permanent.
  • Expectations for changes in food prices increased marginally to 4.9 percent, while those for changes in medical care costs and the cost of a college education declined more substantially to 8.6 percent and 6.0 percent respectively—with both matching or reaching new series lows.

Labor Market

  • Median one-year ahead expected earnings growth rebounded slightly from 2.0 percent to 2.1 percent in January, but remains well below its 2015 average of 2.4 percent. The increase was driven by younger, lower income and lower educated workers.
  • The mean perceived probability of losing one’s job in the next 12 months increased slightly from 13.5 percent in December to 13.9 percent, remaining within the tight range of 12.7 to 15.0 percent seen over the past twelve months.
  • The mean perceived probability of leaving one’s job voluntarily increased from 20.1 to 21.4 percent, while the mean perceived probability of finding a job (if one’s current job were lost) increased from 55.1 percent to 56.0 percent, remaining at the high end of the range observed since the inception of the survey.

Household Finance

  • Median expected household income growth fell slightly compared to last month (from 2.3 percent to 2.2 percent), remaining well below its 2015 average of 2.7 percent and reaching a value not seen since the summer of 2014. The decline was driven by older and less educated respondents.
  • Median household spending growth expectations rebounded slightly from its new low reached in December, increasing from 2.9 percent in December to 3.0 percent.
  • There was a slight deterioration in perceived (over the past 12 months) and expected (over the coming 12 months) credit availability.
  • The average perceived probability of missing a minimum debt payment over the next three months decreased slightly to 11.8 percent, remaining close to its 2015 average of 12.0 percent.
  • The mean perceived probability of a higher average year-ahead interest rate on savings accounts decreased from 35 to 32 percent.

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