Consumer confidence dips in March

NEW YORK -- Dented by a mixed jobs outlook and concerns about business conditions six months out, consumer confidence fell for a second straight month during March, slipping 1.9 percent, to a reading of 102.4 percent from 104.4 percent in February, The Conference Board reported.

The bellwether gauge of consumer sentiment -- and a harbinger of future retail sales -- has slipped 3.1 percent from a 13-month high of 105.1 touched last July. Even so, confidence levels remain relatively sturdy, and the March reading is sharply up, 15.7 percent, from its year-ago level of just 88.5 in March 2004.

Consumers' overall assessment of current conditions remains favorable, and the number who say business conditions are good edged up to 25.8 percent from 24.6 percent. But the number who claim conditions are bad also increased slightly, to 16 percent from 15.7 percent.

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