Consumer confidence a mixed bag, stays flat

Don Hogsett, April 5, 2004

Held in check by nagging concerns about the jobs outlook, consumer confidence was virtually flat in March, The Conference Board reported, giving up just two-tenths of a percent, to a reading of 88.3 percent from 88.5 in February.

"While consumers claimed business conditions were more favorable in March than last month, they also claimed jobs were less readily available," said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board's Consumer Research Center. "The labor market not only continues to dampen consumers' present-day spirits, but it is also making them less optimistic about the short-term outlook."

While consumers feel better about current economic conditions than they did a month ago, their assessment of future conditions "continues to wane," the business think tank reported.

On the plus side, consumers feel better about current business conditions than they did a month ago. The number who say business conditions improved increased to 20.7 percent from 19.3 percent in February. The number who think things have gotten worse was virtually flat at 23.3 percent.

But if they feel good now, they're more fretful looking ahead.

Going forward, the number of consumers who expect business conditions to improve over the next six months slipped to 19.3 percent from 19.5 percent. At the same time, the number who think things will get worse was unchanged at 9.6 percent.

Coloring consumers' confidence levels is their persistent antsiness about the employment outlook. The six-month outlook was mixed, said The Conference Board. Those anticipating more jobs to become available fell to 15.7 percent from 16.4 percent in February.

Consumer confidence by region

Source: The Conference Board
New England +6.5%
Middle Atlantic -5.1
East North Central 2.4
West North Central -1.5
South Atlantic 0.0
East South Central -12.1
West South Central 0.8
Mountain -8.2
Pacific -0.7

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

Source: The Conference Board
Homes +5.3%
Carpets 10.6
Cars -29.2
Major appliances 1.1
Vacation -6.3

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