The change in seasons brought improvements in both consumer confidence and weekly sales.
The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index climbed above the 100 mark in March, after falling below it in February. The Conference Board put the public’s view of economic conditions at 101.3, up from a revised 98.8 in February but still below the 103.8 recorded in January. The January figure was the highest since August 2007, when the figure reached 105.6 in the days before the Great Recession.
Not all indications were positive. While the Expectations Index, which measures anticipated conditions in the next six months, rose to 96 from 90, the Present Situation Index slumped for the second straight month, declining to 109.1 from 112.1 in February.
Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board, said the decline in optimism about current conditions suggests “that growth may have softened in Q1, and doesn’t appear to be gaining any significant momentum heading into the spring months.”
She said he overall increase for March “was driven by an improved short-term outlook for both employment and income prospects. Consumers were less upbeat about business conditions.”
The percentage of consumers expecting an improvement in business conditions declined to 16.7 percent from 17.6 percent in February.
However, those anticipating more jobs in the coming months increased to 15.5 percent from 13.8 percent a month ago, and those expecting growth in their incomes improved to 18.4 percent from 16.4 percent while those expecting a drop declined to 9.9 percent from 10.8 percent.
The index was set at a baseline of 100 in 1985.
Separately on Tuesday, The Retail Economist LLC and Goldman Sachs placed their chain-store sales index for the week ended Saturday, March 28, at 579.1, its highest measure since the week ended Dec. 27, two days after Christmas, when it landed at 586.9. That was 3.4 percent above the prior week and 2.9 percent above the comparable week of 2014.
“Warming temperatures and the upcoming Easter holiday contributed to a stronger week for retail sales,” said Michael Niemira, chief economist and principal of The Retail Economist. . “Although warmer weather spread across most of the nation, temperatures in the East over the past week remained below normal, which curbed Easter and spring apparel demand in that region.”
He noted improving business conditions at department stores, wholesale clubs and electronics stores but weaker for grocery, office, online and furniture stores. Other channels, including apparel stores, were “little changed” from the prior year.
According to Weather Trends International, the average temperature in the U.S. was 4.5 degrees warmer than last year and 0.4 degrees above its long-term average.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that average gasoline prices declined slightly to $2.447 a gallon last week but were 31.6 percent lower than during the comparable 2014 week.