NEW YORK — Consumers aren’t expecting a lot of good news over the next six months.

A decline in October’s Consumer Confidence Index to 92.8 from 96.7 last month was dragged down by a 5.9 percent drop in the Expectations Index, which fell to 92 from 97.7 in September.

The fall in the confidence index represents the third consecutive monthly decline, hitting its lowest level since March. The decline also was steeper than expected. Topping the list of concerns of those polled were fewer jobs as well as a lack of improvement in their income.

“Subdued expectations, as opposed to eroding present-day conditions, were the major cause behind October’s decline in consumer confidence,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center, which compiles the index.

Franco said while consumers’ assessment of the labor market improved, the gain was not enough to ease concerns about future job growth.

Meanwhile, the Present Situation Index, a component of the Consumer Confidence Index, dipped to 94.2 in October from 95.3 in September.

According to October’s survey, consumers were cautious about the future, with those anticipating conditions to worsen increasing to 10.3 percent from 9.4 percent in the prior survey. Consumers expecting business conditions to improve fell to 20.6 percent from 21.6 percent.

On the jobs front, those expecting fewer jobs to become available jumped to 18.4 from 16.2 last month. In addition, consumers expecting their incomes to improve over the next six months dipped to 18.4 percent from 20 percent.

While the consensus forecasts by economists pegged the index at 94, the steeper decline didn’t seem to be a problem for some.

Maury Harris, chief U.S. economist at UBS, wrote in a research note that “weaker assessments of the future accounted for most of the deterioration” in the index, while the impact from a wave of hurricanes last month understated the strength of the labor market. He still expects hiring to rebound to 225,000 in October from 96,000 in September.

“High energy prices, a weaker stock market and hurricanes likely have sapped confidence in the future,” Harris said.

This story first appeared in the October 27, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Economist Stephen Gallagher at SG Cowen wrote in his report that the pullback in consumer confidence was a “disappointment,” but noted that the weaker view of the future must be conditioned on worries over oil prices and to a lesser extent the upcoming presidential election.

Gallagher cautioned, however, that “how much higher oil prices stem consumption and hiring plans remains a critical question going forward, and the responses by consumers in this survey reveal a keen awareness of the risks even as they report stable to slightly improving current employment trends.”

Should job growth fail to rebound and wage growth slow, a big risk is that retail sales could “dry up,” according to Bernstein Research analyst Emme Kozloff. She added in a report that softer sales “could drive downside to retail stocks on the order of 10 percent to 15 percent.”

For intellectual property attorney Kara Cenar, partner at Welsh & Katz in Chicago, the slowdown in confidence means more work for her. “When confidence is low, consumers become more cautious, and they start to look for ways to stretch their dollars. Infringers knock off branded goods to get their share of those dollars, causing branded manufacturers to spend more money fighting knockoffs and counterfeiters,” Cenar said.

She said as consumers gravitate toward the Internet in search of bargains, there’s a greater need for her firm’s services to protect domain names and keep track of new sites to make sure they don’t sell bogus goods.

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