By  on March 27, 2012

Consumers are fairly upbeat now, but their expectations for six months down the road are less optimistic, pulling down the consumer confidence gauge for March.

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index dipped slightly this month to 70.2 after rising in February to 71.6. The present situations component rose to 51 from 46.4, and is now at its highest level in three and a half years, since September 2008, when it was 61.1. The expectations portion fell to 83 from 88.4 last month.

IHS Global Insight senior principal economist Chris G. Christopher Jr. said, “The consumer mood is still at relatively higher levels due to an improving labor market. However, rising gasoline prices are starting to take their toll on the consumer psyche, and there is often a disconnect between how people say they feel and what they do.”

Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said, “The moderate decline was due solely to a less favorable short-term outlook, while consumers’ assessment of current conditions, on the other hand, continued to improve.”

Franco noted that the data suggests that “consumers feel the economy is not losing momentum.” That’s in part due to consumers’ appraisal of current business conditions, of which those who believed that the situation was good rose to 14.3 percent from 13.7 percent.

Also on the rise this month was consumer inflation expectations, increasing to 6.3 points from 5.5 last month.

Still, the jobs front was a mixed picture, as was the labor market versus consumers’ own income expectations.

Those saying jobs are “plentiful” rose to 9.4 percent from 7 percent, but those who said jobs were “hard to get” also rose, with the latter rising to 41 percent from 38.6 percent.

They were also less optimistic about the short-term outlook compared with last month. Those respondents who anticipated more jobs in the months ahead fell to 17.3 percent from 18.8 percent, while those who expected fewer jobs rose to 18.3 percent from 16.4 percent.

Consumers who expected an increase in their incomes rose slightly to 15.8 percent from 15.5 percent, while those who expected a decrease rose to 14.6 percent from 13 percent. The respondents who said they expected their income to stay the same dipped slightly to 69.6 percent from 71.5 percent.

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