Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Consumer sentiment hits highest level since 2018 despite coronavirus outbreak


American consumers were increasingly optimistic about the economy this month despite a deadly viral outbreak across at least two dozen countries.

The University of Michigan said Friday its key measure of consumer sentiment jumped to 100.9 in early February from 99.8 a month earlier, near the peak of the expansion and the highest level since March 2018. Economists expected a reading of 99.5. 

An index of current economic conditions was unchanged but expectations ticked higher. Assessments of personal finances and the national economy poseded sharp rises, while perceptions of buying conditions for household durables dimmed. 

The overall rise came despite the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has raised alarm among health officials and led to widespread restrictions on travel and commerce. Just 7% mentioned the coronavirus when asked to explain their economic expectations in early February, according to the survey.

Americans also appeared unfazed as the 2020 campaign season heated up. About 10% of all consumers mentioned "some aspect of the election as having a potential impact on their economic expectations," the survey said.

"These gains in consumers' economic assessments have also been accompanied by a faint stirring of two powerful sources of uncertainty," said Richard Curtin, the chief economist of the survey.