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Consumer Economic Life Index Shows Strong Improvements
Mar 11, 2011
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The March 2011 Consumer Reports Index posted its most positive results in two years, despite international unrest and higher energy prices. CR credited a major decline in U.S. consumer financial troubles and positive sentiment.

CR said consumers saw "real improvements in their economic life" in February, moving the Consumer Sentiment Index into positive territory. The index stood at 50.3 in March, up from 48.7 a month ago and making it the first time sentiment has been in positive territory since it was first measured in October 2008.

The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index, measuring the financial difficulties faced by consumers, fell sharply from 58.7 in February 2011 to 44.8 in March. The Trouble Tracker Index is now at its lowest level since it was first reported in April 2008. CR reported that declines were evident for a wide range of reported financial difficulties in the past 30 days.

The Consumer Reports Stress Index, a measure of the stress consumers feel in their everyday lives versus a year ago. The March index was 58.7, down from 59.3 in February but up from 57.7 in March 2010. Survey results about consumer spending still have not shown the same optimism.

“The March index provides the most encouraging results that we have seen since we started the index more than two years ago,” said Ed Farrell, a director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center. “Consumers may be feeling that they are finally makes strides in the right direction when it comes to their financial well-being.”

Though broad improvements were evident, the proportion of consumers missing a mortgage payment in the past 30 days has been on the rise over the past several months to 3.1%, up from 2.0% in December.

After remaining locked at 49.2 for the past three months, the Consumer Reports Employment Index is up slightly to 49.7 and is up from 48.7 in March 2010.

Consumers are still cautious in terms of their shopping behavior, with the CR Past 30-Day Retail Index, reflecting February activity, at 10.5, down slightly from 11.6 in the prior month and from 11.1 a year ago. CR's Next 30-Day Retail Index, reflecting planned purchasing in March, dropped from 8.3 in February to 7.6 in March. The level remains about even with one year ago (7.3).

The CR Consumer Sentiment Index broke into positive territory, reaching 50.3, up significantly from 48.7 in February. This is the first time sentiment has been in positive territory since it was first measured in October 2008.

Consumers faced fewer troubles in March, with the Trouble Tracker index falling to 44.8 in March from 58.7 in February, putting the index at its lowest level since it was first released in April 2008.

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