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Barometer hits snag as labor market sags

With Americans growing increasingly anxious about the nation's soft labor market — and their own job security and incomes — consumer confidence fell by 4.9 percent in September, to a reading of 76.8, giving up all of the prior month's hefty increase, The Conference Board reported.

Buying plans fell at a double-digit pace virtually across the board, with fewer consumers planning to buy homes, cars, carpets or major appliances over the next six months. But consumers still want to get away from home, and plans to take a vacation advanced by 3.8 percent, the only category to gain during the month, the business think tank reported in its monthly barometer of consumer sentiment.

"The lack of improvement in labor market conditions continues to dampen consumers' spirits," said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board's Consumer Research Center.

But despite the September pullback, "consumers remain cautiously optimistic about the outlook for the next six months," Franco reported. And given that moderately positive outlook, she said, "Consumer spending is likely to continue at or near current levels."

Looking out over the next six months, consumer expectations weakened, the monthly canvass showed. The number of Americans who think business conditions will improve slipped to 21.4 percent from 22.6 percent in August. Those expecting business conditions to deteriorate rose to 11.9 percent.

The employment outlook also weakened. Those anticipating the job market to improve over the next six months declined to 16.7 percent from 18.0 percent in August. Those expecting fewer jobs to become available increased to 21.0 percent from 18.6 percent. Similarly, consumers are fretful about their earning prospects. The number of Americans who anticipate a raise fell to 18.6 percent from 20.7 percent.

Consumers' take on current business conditions remained relatively unchanged. The number who think business conditions are good edged up to 16.0 percent from 15.9 percent. Correspondingly, the number who think conditions are bad declined to 29.6 percent from 31.0 percent.

Consumer confidence by region

New England +4.1%
Middle Atlantic -14.7
East North Central +3.1
West North Central +12.2
South Atlantic -3.2
East South Central -23.6
West South Central +10.1
Mountain +9.3
Pacific -10.9

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