No Springtime for Consumer Sentiment

Spring has sprung across much of the nation. Not so consumer confidence.

The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index has eased back to -47 on its scale of +100 to -100 this week, matching its 2010 average. It’s down by 4 points from last week, casting doubt on the tentative recovery marked by an unusual 6-point gain in mid-March. That’s now nearly all faded.

Consumers aren’t the only ones less than fully convinced a recovery’s begun. The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research issued an unusual statement Monday saying it’s unable to declare the recession over. While “most indicators have turned up,” it said, “the committee decided that the determination of the trough date on the basis of current data would be premature.”

One of the struggling indicators is consumer sentiment. The CCI, based on Americans’ ratings of the national economy, the buying climate and their personal finances, remains far below its 24-year average, -13. Just 8 percent rate the national economy positively, 25 percent call it a good time to spend money and 47 percent rate their personal finances positively. The latter has been below a majority for 14 weeks straight, and almost continuously for the last two years.

Other indicators, as the NBER statement noted, are better; hiring in March showed its largest gain in three years and major chain retailers reported a 9 percent increase in sales last month, the largest jump in 10 years. Confidence, moreover, is not evenly distributed; as usual the CCI is far better, for example, (-10) among well-off Americans, those with household incomes higher than $100,000. But in consumer views overall, it’s hard at the moment to see green shoots. Summary by Amanda Rohaly. Click here for tables with this week’s CCI data.

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