U.S. Consumer Confidence Deteriorates Amid Uncertainty About Outlook

Reflecting a deterioration in the short-term outlook, the Conference Board released a report on Tuesday showing a notable decrease in U.S. consumer confidence in the month of March.

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index slumped to 120.0 in March from an upwardly revised 132.6 in February.

Economists had expected the consumer confidence index to tumble to 110.0 from the 130.7 originally reported for the previous month.

The report said the present situation index dipped to 167.7 in March from 169.3 in February, reflecting a modestly less favorable assessment of current conditions.

The percentage of consumers claiming business conditions are “good” was relatively unchanged at 39.6 percent, while those claiming business conditions are “bad” inched up to 11.4 percent from 10.8 percent.

Consumers’ assessment of the job market also moderated, with those saying jobs are “plentiful” slipping to 44.9 percent from 46.5 percent and those claiming jobs are “hard to get” unchanged at 13.9 percent.

Meanwhile, the report said the expectations index plummeted to 88.2 in March from 108.1 in February, as consumers were significantly less optimistic about the short-term outlook.

Consumers expecting business conditions will improve over the next six months fell to 18.2 percent from 20.6 percent, while those expecting business conditions will worsen jumped to 14.9 percent from 7.2 percent.

The outlook for the labor market was also less positive, with consumers expecting more jobs edging down to 15.5 percent from 16.6 percent and those anticipating fewer jobs climbing to 17.1 percent from 12.0 percent.

Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at the Conference Board, noted the present situation index remained relatively strong, reflective of an economy that was on solid footing prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

“However, the intensification of COVID-19 and extreme volatility in the financial markets have increased uncertainty about the outlook for the economy and jobs,” Franco said.

She added, “March’s decline in confidence is more in line with a severe contraction – rather than a temporary shock – and further declines are sure to follow.”

Last Friday, the University of Michigan released a separate report showing consumer sentiment in the U.S. deteriorated by much more than initially estimated in the month of March.

The report said the consumer sentiment index for March was downwardly revised to 89.1 from the preliminary reading of 95.9.

The consumer sentiment index is now down sharply from the final February reading of 101.0, reflecting the fourth largest one-month decline in nearly a half-century.

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