• David Gill

Consumer confidence 'gloomy' in April

NEW YORK — "Gloomy" was the word used to describe the behavior of consumer confidence in April.

Indeed, the blues hit the U.S. economy when The Conference Board released its April consumer confidence index. The key indicator took a nearly eight-point dive from its March level, falling to 109.2.

Both of the key components of the main consumer index, expectations and present situations, did their part in deflating consumer confidence last month. The present situation index fell nearly 12 points in The Conference Board's April survey, to 155.6, while the expectations index slipped nearly five points, to 78.2.

Adding to the murky situation, all nine U.S. regions covered in The Conference Board's report saw their separate indices go south. The Mountain region took the steepest fall, lopping more than 23 points from its index. The New England index fell more than 16 points, and the Pacific index was off nearly 13 points.

The results were so downtrodden that not even the normally upbeat Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board's consumer research center, could find a positive glimmer from the report.

Franco said, "Deteriorating business conditions and a less favorable job market are the two critical reasons for the latest decline in confidence."

Certainly, the raw data was there to support Franco's analysis. The 5,000 consumers who responded to The Conference Board's survey found it hard to say anything nice about the current shape of the economy. The percentages of those who thought that business conditions were "good" and that jobs were "plentiful" both fell, while the percentages of those seeing "bad" conditions and "hard-to-get" jobs both rose.

The consumer respondents also saw little to hope for when evaluating the next six months. More respondents thought that business conditions would worsen, fewer thought that things would improve and fewer expected higher paychecks in that time frame.

Anthony Karydakis, analyst with Banc One Capital Markets, said the April index reading "highlights the fragility of the economic environment at this point." Karydakis suggested that these results might move the Federal Reserve to slash interest rates again, when its Open Market Committee meets again in the middle of May.

Consumer confidence by region

New England -13.9
Middle Atlantic -3.6
East North Central -7.0
West North Central -2.2
South Atlantic -9.0
East South Central -1.1
West South Central -2.1
Mountain -17.5
Pacific -10.9

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