The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index, which declined sharply in February, fell again in March. The Index now stands at 62.5 (1985=100), down from 64.8 in February. The Expectations Index fell to 62.5 from 65.7. The Present Situation Index declined to 62.4 from 63.5.
The Consumer Confidence Survey is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households. The monthly survey is conducted for The Conference Board by NFO WorldGroup, a member of The Interpublic Group of Companies. The cutoff date for the preliminary readings was March 18, 2003.
"While a quick and successful outcome in the Middle East conflict would certainly ease some of the uncertainties facing consumers and therefore boost confidence, it is the economic fundamentals that will determine whether a rebound is sustainable," says Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board's Consumer Research Center. "The end of the Gulf War in 1991 produced a surge in confidence, but labor market conditions quickly diminished the spark. So if history repeats itself, the current job scenario will do little to maintain any post-war surge in confidence."
Consumers' appraisal of the current business environment mirrored last month's readings. Those rating present business conditions as "bad" remained virtually unchanged at 29.8 percent. Those holding the opposite view accounted for 13.8 percent. Consumers reporting jobs are hard to get rose to 32.3 percent from 30.0 percent. Those claiming jobs are plentiful remained relatively flat at 11.6 percent.
Consumers' short-term expectations are more pessimistic than last month. Those anticipating that business conditions will worsen over the next six months edged up to 19.9 percent from 19.1 percent. Consumers anticipating an improvement fell to 13.3 percent from 14.9 percent.
The employment outlook fared no better. Consumers anticipating more jobs to become available in the next six months declined to 11.1 percent from 12.4 percent. Those expecting fewer jobs, however, dropped to 26.1 percent from 28.5 percent. Consumers anticipating an increase in their incomes declined slightly to 15.8 percent, from 16.0 percent last month.
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