CONFERENCE BOARD: CONSUMER CONFIDENCE HOLDING THE LINE

Byline: Carol Emert

WASHINGTON — The consumer confidence index remained in healthy territory in March, although concerns about the job market are likely to keep personal spending at modest levels, according to the Conference Board, which prepares the monthly report.
Consumer sentiment reflects an economy that is “nothing spectacular, but nothing too gloomy, either,” similar to conditions in 1995, said Lynn Franco, associate director of the board’s consumer research center.
The board recorded an overall confidence reading of 97.7 in March, a tiny dip from the 98 reading in February. The March 1995 index stood at 100.2. The index is based on monthly surveys of 5,000 households.
Consumer assessments of the present situation inched down to 109.2 in March from 110.8 in February and 115.3 in March 1995. Expectations for the future, meanwhile, rose to 90.1 this month from 89.5 in February. The index in March 1995 also read 90.1.The month-to-month changes for all of the indices are so small that they can be considered “almost statistical static,” Franco said.
Still, responses to some of the poll questions revealed some interesting, and sometimes contradictory, sentiments. For example, fewer people in March than in February said they expect business conditions to improve in six months (15.1 percent in March versus 15.5 percent the prior month). However, fewer people also expected conditions to worsen, with 8.5 percent of March respondents anticipating poorer conditions, compared to 10 percent in February. The same trend was seen in employment expectations. Only 12.8 percent of those polled in March said they expect more jobs to be available in six months, down from 13.2 percent of those questioned in February. But 17.8 percent of March respondents said they expect fewer jobs to be available, down from 18.7 percent of those interviewed in February.
More pessimism was evident in peoples’ expectations for their own incomes six months in the future. Twenty-one percent of respondents in March said they expect their incomes to increase in the next half-year, down from 23.6 percent in February.

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