By and  on September 27, 2011

Consumer confidence remained at depressed levels in September as consumers carried forward the negativity that sparked a steep drop last month.

But even as retail stock gains eased Tuesday after the weak reading on consumer sentiment, Wall Street rallied for much of the day as investors took their lead from European markets, where hopes that the Eurozone debt crisis could be alleviated fueled a rally.

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index inched up slightly to 45.4 this month from 45.2 in August, but is still well below July’s reading of 59.2. The Present Situation Index, which makes up half the overall index, fell to 32.5 from 34.3 last month as the Expectations Index rose to 54 from 52.4. Only 11.7 percent of those surveyed saw current business conditions as “good,” down from 14.1 percent last month.

“The pessimism that shrouded consumers last month has spilled over into September,” said Lynn Franco, director of the group’s Consumer Research Center. “Consumers expressed greater concern about their expected earnings, a sign that does not bode well for spending. In addition, consumers’ assessment of current conditions declined for the fifth consecutive month, a sign that the economic environment remains weak.”

A recent survey from consultancy Kurt Salmon, which polled more than 100 senior U.S. retail executives, illustrated the pressures consumers are putting on retailers. When asked how consumer attitudes changed over the past year, 40 percent of the executives said shoppers wanted to spend less and 15 percent said they wanted better deals.

Investors, on the other hand, are looking for solid ground as the economy slows and Europe struggles with its debt crisis.

The S&P Retail Index started off strongly but closed down 0.5 percent, or 2.61 points, to 515.59, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.3 percent, or 146.83 points, to 11,190.69.

Sears Holdings Corp., which is looking to lease space in its stores to other retailers, was among the strongest stocks of the day, rising 6.6 percent to $57.51. On the other end of the price spectrum, Saks Inc. also gained ground, rising 5 percent to $9.50.

So far this week, the Dow has gained back 419 of the 737 points lost in last week’s market rout. European stocks continued their upward climb, spurred on by embryonic plans to tackle the Eurozone’s fiscal woes.

Paris’ CAC 40 led the upward charge, closing up 5.7 percent, followed by Frankfurt’s DAX, which rose 5.3 percent. Milan’s FTSE MIB climbed 4.9 percent, while London’s FTSE 100 rose 4 percent.

Principals from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Eurozone member countries are attempting to hammer out plans that would ease Greece’s sovereign debt or take pressure off banks across Europe that are most exposed to the debt.

Nothing, however, has been decided.

Most of the major retail and luxury stocks closed on a high, with the day’s biggest winners including the French mass market retailer Metro, which gained 9.6 percent; Carrefour, which rose 6.4 percent, and Richemont, which climbed 5.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the German retail group Arcandor closed down 4.8 percent, and Bulgari also dipped 0.1 percent.

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