Led by a sharp drop in consumers’ optimism for the future, the RBC Cash Index declined to 33.1 in March, compared with 48.5 in February.

This story first appeared in the March 10, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The latest RBC Cash Index shows consumer confidence continuing to decline, with the overall index and three of the four subindexes reaching record lows,” said T.J. Marta, economic and fixed income strategist for RBC Capital Markets. “The U.S. consumer, who has carried the economy for the past half-dozen years, is in full defensive mode, battered by falling housing values, spiking food and energy prices, tightening lending standards, the teetering stock market and hints of weakening in the labor market.”

The downturn in the index is being driven by a steep decline in consumers’ expectations for their local economy, RBC said. In the latest survey, more than one-third

of consumers, or 35 percent, believe their local economy will be weaker six months from now, up from 28 percent last month.