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Index rebounds as '03 outlook improves

After a five-month-long freefall, the consumer confidence index managed to move up in November. As compiled by The Conference Board, the index reached 84.1, up 5.7 points from its October reading of 79.6 — its lowest level in nine years.

The index benefited from an improved outlook for the future, according to the board's survey results. The 5,000 consumer households that responded to the monthly survey said economic conditions for the next six months look better to them. This was reflected in the expectations index, one of the two major component numbers in the overall index, which finished November up 7.3 points at 88.4.

Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board's Consumer Research Center, offered a hopeful but somewhat muted analysis of consumers' down-the-road viewpoint. "The rebound in expectations suggests consumers do not expect economic conditions to become worse," Franco said. "This comeback signals a brighter holiday spending season than was anticipated only a month ago."

In another more buoyant sign of better times, The Conference Board reported last week that consumers plan to spend more on holiday gifts this year than last year.

Many consumers also believe Americans' job situations have turned for the better. Indeed, the consumer confidence survey showed that the respondents' expectations for economic conditions, jobs and income have all improved somewhat. The percentages of those anticipating better business conditions and rising incomes all grew in the November survey, while the percentage of consumers predicting more jobs held steady. The ratios of those expecting worse economic, job and income conditions all declined.

Consumer confidence by region

Region % change
New England +12.2
Middle Atlantic +10.0
East North Central +3.7
West North Central -0.3
South Atlantic +6.4
East South Central -13.9
West South Central +8.1
Mountain +8.4
Pacific -5.5


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

Source: The Conference Board
Homes -6.5%
Carpets 0.0
Major appliances -2.8
New car -12.9
Used car -17.9


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