Many different surveys of consumer confidence and sentiment exist. Some research institutions and investment firms have even created their own. The best known and most respected are the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index and the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment. However, all the various surveys share one characteristic: They ask everyday people from different walks of life easy to answer questions that probe their feelings about the current and future state of the economy, inflation, and their plans for vehicle and home purchases.

The Conference Board’s confidence index is generally released on the last Tuesday of each month and a basic version made available on the Conference Board’s website. A more detailed version and the history is available by subscription directly from the Conference Board.

The University of Michigan usually issues its sentiment index on the second to last Friday of each month, followed by the revised final estimate two weeks later. This survey is available by subscription only.

The differences in the methodologies used by the Conference Board and the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center are small but important enough to produce indices with somewhat divergent characteristics and strengths. Some feel that the larger pool sampled in the NFO survey makes the Conference Board’s indices more significant statistically. They also feel that eliciting expectations for the next six months, as the NFO survey does, is more realistic than the Michigan survey’s five year perspective. On the other hand, the longer history and twice-monthly reporting of the sentiment indices garner favor for the University of Michigan’s report.

The Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce releases the Advance Monthly Sales for Retail Trade and Food Services report, aka the retail sales report, about two weeks after the end of the record month at 8:30 am ET. The report presents preliminary estimates for the nominal dollar value of sales for the retail sector, as well as the month to month change in that value.

The reason for the interest in the retail sales report is that retail spending provides a great deal of insight into personal consumption expenditures, the largest contributor to gross domestic product.

The Census Bureau compiles the Advance Monthly Sales for Retail Trade and Food Services report from responses to a survey it mails out to approximately 5,000 companies about five working days before the end of the reporting month. The 5,000 are a subsample of the 13,000 or so companies polled for the later Monthly Retail Trade report. The replies are weighted and benchmarked to give an accurate representation of the more than 3 million retail and food services companies in the United States and indicates what these companies earned during the record month from sales and for providing services that are “incidental to the sale of the merchandise.â€‌