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Dropoff less severe than expected in April

Triggering a strong rally on Wall Street last Tuesday, consumer confidence slipped just 1.7 percent in April, The Conference Board reported, a far smaller decline than analysts and economists had been expecting.

And while consumer sentiment about current economic conditions weakened somewhat, Americans still feel bullish about the future, said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board's Consumer Research Center.

"This month's retreat in confidence was caused primarily by a softening in consumers' assessment of current economic conditions," said Franco. "Consumers' expectations remain virtually undaunted and signal continued expansion in the months ahead."

Indeed, consumer buying plans remain healthy, especially for big-ticket items, and plans to buy homes, cars and major appliances all climbed higher during the month. Car-buying plans advanced a hefty 8.6 percent, and plans to buy a home shot up by 14.3 percent. But as consumers continue to buy homes in a low interest-rate environment, they may not have much money left over to put anything into them. While plans to buy a home climbed higher during April, plans to buy a carpet fell by 8.7 percent. And plans to buy a major appliance edged up just 2.0 percent.

Consumers' feelings about ongoing conditions slacked off somewhat in April, The Conference Board reported, with the number who consider current conditions "good" declining to 19.7 percent from 21.0 percent the prior month.

But the outlook for the next six months was mixed. Those expecting an improvement in economic conditions increased to 26.1 percent from 25.4 percent. But those who expect conditions to worsen edged up slightly, to 6.4 percent from 6.2 percent a month ago.

Consumer confidence by region

REGION % CHANGE
New England +7.1%
Middle Atlantic -2.2
East North Central -0.5
West North Central -2.0
South Atlantic -3.1
East South Central -10.8
West South Central +5.1
Mountain -3.4
Pacific -8.7


Consumer Buying Plans — April
plans to purchase over the next six months

Source: The Conference Board
Homes +14.3%
Cars +8.6
Major appliances +2.0
Carpets -8.7
U.S. vacation +1.6
Foreign vacation -9.2


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