AICPA: Americans’ financial satisfaction hits 24-year high

Written on Nov 01, 2017

Increased gains in the stock market and a high number of available jobs have Americans experiencing their highest level of personal financial satisfaction in the 24-year history of the AICPA’s Personal Financial Satisfaction Index (PFSi). The new high reached by the Q3 2017 PFSi, released this week, eclipses the previous record reached right before the great recession (Q4 2006). The AICPA began issuing the PFSi quarterly in January 2015, with the data for the index tracking back to 1994.

The PFSi is calculated as the Personal Financial Pleasure Index minus the Personal Financial Pain Index, with positive readings signaling that Americans are feeling more financial pleasure than pain. The Q3 PFSi measured 25.9, a 2.6-point increase from the prior quarter. The increase was due to a modest gain (2.1 points) in the Personal Financial Pleasure index and a slight (0.5 point) decrease in the Personal Financial Pain index.

The Personal Financial Pleasure Index, at 68.1, is up 2.1 points from the previous quarter, continuing its steady increase and setting a record for the third quarter in a row. The Real Home Equity Per Capita Index, based on data issued for April, experienced the largest increase over the previous quarter (4.8 points), though it remains significantly (16.3%) below the 2006 all-time high. The changes in home equity have been due to increases in the market value of real estate exceeding increases in mortgages outstanding.

The PFS 750 Market Index continues to be the biggest contributor to the Pleasure Index, a trend that began in 2009 and continued in Q3 as the component rose to a record high for the third quarter in a row. The U.S. economy has continued its steady expansion as corporate earnings are improving and interest rate policy remains accommodating. The strongest sectors have been performing well, with the banking sector leading the way followed by aerospace and defense.

The Personal Financial Pain Index, at 42.1, saw two factors decrease from the previous quarter, combining to drop the index 0.5 points which contributed to the overall improvement in the PFSi. The decrease from the preceding quarter was led by a 2.9 point decrease in loan delinquencies. Though the current reading of delinquencies on mortgages (3.93%) is well below the peak delinquency rate for mortgages (11.26%) set in the spring of 2010, it is still above what was typical between 1994 through 2003 (2.12%).

However, there is reason to believe there may be an increase in loan delinquencies in Q4. The recent onslaught of hurricanes and wildfires across the U.S. left more damage and affected a much larger area than Hurricane Katrina did in 2005. Though not reflected in Q3, it is logical to expect that we will see some negative impact from these storms in the quarters ahead. As a comparison point, Katrina ultimately led to a significant (34%) increase in delinquencies in the areas it damaged. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA have all announced a temporary moratorium on any actions as a result of mortgages going unpaid in storm devastated areas.

Also contributing to the decrease in the Pain Index was a 2.0 point drop in the inflation index (The Q3 Inflation Index relies on the Fed’s August level). The current value is 34, down 5.5% from 36 in Q2 and 42.4% above last year’s level. Inflation is the most volatile factor contributing to the PFSi and with absolute levels so low, small changes result in large percentage gains, such as the 42.4% increase that still leaves it below the Fed’s target. 

Additional findings:

  • The Job Openings Per Capita Index, the second largest contributor to the Pleasure index, increased 3.6% (2.5 points) since the prior quarter, continuing its rise for the third quarter in a row. Compared to Q2, the strongest job growth has been in food services, professional and business services and health care. At a total of 6.2 million, overall job openings are setting records.
  • Personal taxes, still the leading overall contributor to financial pain for the sixth quarter in a row, showed a 1.9 point increase from the previous quarter and a 0.8 point increase from the prior year level.
  • The AICPA Economic Outlook Index, which captures the expectations of CPA executives in the year ahead for their companies and the U.S. economy, had a recent low point occur in Q1 2016. Since then, there has been an uptrend (about 5% per quarter for 2016), except for a slight retreat (1.3%) in Q2 2017. The survey was conducted in August.
  • Underemployment, at 39 points, is 2.8% higher than the previous quarter level but 13% below the prior year. In comparison, its peak value was 84.3 points in Q4 2009. It is still about 1.8% above its average value before the great recession.
Additional information on the PFSi can be found at: www.aicpa.org/PFSi

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