S&P 500 Jumps as Consumer Confidence Rises, Uncertainty Ebbs

The Conference Board reported today that its Consumer Confidence Index, or CCI, rose to 83 this month, its second-highest rating since early 2008. The market responded well, and the S&P 500 hit a new intraday high. The news was especially well received by investors in two key industries: lifestyle food companies and large banks.

Source: The Conference Board.

Shares of Whole Foods (NASDAQ: WFM  ) and Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG  ) -- both companies that project an image of healthful, socially conscious food options -- gained more than 2% after the CCI was released. These companies rely on customers willing to spend more on basic goods.

Meanwhile, shares of both Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) and Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) made substantial gains as well. Rising consumer sentiment may have played a role here as well, because businesses and individuals are more willing to spend money and take on debt in order to fuel growth when prospects are good.

Digging deeper into the numbers
Looking at what inputs are considered before issuing the CCI, it's easy to see why these two industries are likely beneficiaries.

First and foremost, individuals seem to believe that the labor market is continuing to improve. The number of those who told the Conference Board that jobs were "plentiful" rose almost 9% from April, while those claiming jobs were "hard to get" fell by just over 1%.

Taken as a whole, the perceived labor market is far from ideal, but the trends over the past year are definitely encouraging.

Source:Conference Board.

Just as important, the percentage of respondents saying they expected their income to grow over the next six months hit its highest point in over six years at 18.3% -- that's a 9% improvement over April.

How this helps natural-food companies
The benefit for both of the aforementioned subgroups is obvious. Much has been made recently about Whole Foods' struggle to compete on price with its mainstream grocery competitors. Though the company is making strides to lower prices, today's news means that shoppers are presumably more willing to pay up for Whole Foods' goods.

And though Chipotle -- both the stock and the company -- has enjoyed a much steadier ride than Whole Foods lately, it is subject to many of the same economic pressures. With food prices rising, the company needs to strike the right balance of passing costs on to consumers without scaring them off. With an uptick in economic optimism, investors likely believe that people are willing to pay a little more for their burritos moving forward.

How big banks benefit
Nothing spurs economic development and optimism more than higher employment. While the federal government's release of the unemployment rate is the most watched measure for this metric, the Conference Board's numbers offer hope for banks that will benefit from increased consumer spending and business investments.

A key insight from the Consumer Confidence Index is that randomly selected respondents now believe jobs are more plentiful and easier to get than they have been in the recent past. This could mean a slight rise in the unemployment rate but also increased labor-force participation -- i.e., more people may resume looking for jobs and thus be counted among the unemployed.

Bank of America is also likely benefiting today because it submitted a smaller capital plan to the Federal Reserve after being forced, embarrassingly, to cancel its dividend and share repurchase program after noticing a mathematical error.

Citigroup may be benefiting from non-CCI news as well. The company today launched a new options and futures trading platform that promises to allow better real-time supervision and analysis of algorithmic trades.

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