All Those Years Ago: Americans Financial Satisfaction Slides to 2015 Levels

brianoconnell

Yes, personal satisfaction metrics are a thing, and few do metrics better than the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), the largest accountancy organization in the U.S.

Thus, the latest data from the AICPA’s AICPA’s Q2 2020 Personal Financial Satisfaction index deserves a close look. In it, the PFSi shows a 55% decrease from the Q1 index – the largest drop in the index’s history. In real terms, that means Americans’ personal satisfaction, on average, have fallen to 2015 levels.

The key takeaway is that in the eyes of Main Street Americans, we’re sliding backward economically in 2020, and that’s not good for the economy or the average U.S. adult.

Let’s examine some takeaways directly from the study:

The primary factor driving the quarter-over-quarter PFSi decline was a 246% (75 point) increase in underemployment. Rising underemployment hurts overall financial satisfaction. This factor more than doubled from the prior quarter, surpassing its former peak set in Q4 2009 to reach a new record high. The Q2 level reflects data measured through the middle of June.

The second-largest contributor to the PFSi decline from the previous quarter was the AICPA’s CPA Outlook Index, which experienced a 68% (35 point) decline. 

The CPA Outlook Index captures the expectations of CPA executives in the year ahead for their companies and the U.S. economy. It’s the only index factor that is calculated from sentiment, which was captured in a survey conducted by the organization from May 5 to 27.

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Its decrease was primarily driven by a steep decline in optimism about the U.S. economy’s outlook over the next 12 months. Also notably contributing to the PFSi decline was a 32% (25 point) drop in the job openings factor which uses Bureaus of Labor Statistics data that measures through April.

“Finding yourself unemployed or experiencing a sudden loss of income from your business warrants revisiting your financial plan immediately and updating your monthly budget,” says Dave Stolz, CPA/PFS chair of the American Institute of CPAs’ PFS Credential Committee. “It’s essential to understand the available COVID-related government assistance such as business loans from the Paycheck Protection Program and federal unemployment benefits and incorporate them into a revised financial plan.”

As the AICPA attests, going into 2020, Americans were experiencing record-high levels of personal financial satisfaction, and we’re still well ahead of our all-time low in terms of consumer financial satisfaction, as Americans “were still emerging from the lingering impact of the Great Recession”, the survey points out.

One silver lining – more like a silver broad beam – is the continued rise in the U.S. stock market.

According to the AICPA, in the second quarter of 2020, the PFS 750 Market index (an AICPA proprietary stock index comprised of the 750 largest companies trading on the US Market) bounced back from its depressed Q1 reading. The Market index increased by 21% (16.8 points) above the prior quarter, regaining almost all the prior quarter’s lost gains. That’s just shy of its recent all-time high set in Q4 2019.

“The stock market’s recent rebound is a good reminder why it’s important to resist the urge to time the market and instead remain focused on the long-term goals of your financial plan,” says Stolz. “If you had exited the stock market after its Q1 decline, you would have missed out on all of Q2’s big gains. The recent market fluctuation was a good gut check for risk tolerance and an opportunity for Americans to revisit their asset allocation.”

That’s a good call from the nation’s accounting industry.

Just because unemployment is up and the economy is steering through choppy seas, getting out of the stock market isn’t a great idea right now.

In fact, the market is one of few economic engines operating at full throttle in 2020, and Main Street Americans would do well to ride the wave into a more economically robust 2021, once a vaccine is found and we start viewing COVID-19 in the rearview mirror.