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Consumer confidence stable, but not strong, reports say

By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Americans seem to be in a holding pattern when it comes to consumer confidence, feeling generally upbeat about the state of the economy, but warily so, according to a virtually unchanged index from the Conference Board.

The monthly index dipped slightly to 69.2 in April after a minor slide to 69.5 in March, according to the New York-based research group.

The private board’s expectations index fell to 81.1 from 82.5 while its present situation index jumped to 51.4, its highest point since September 2008, from 49.9.

The data signals that while consumers still aren’t thrilled about their prospects for the future — an unexpectedly gloomy outlook during the spring season, analysts said — their views of their current situation are perking up a bit.

More Americans, but still fewer than 2 in 10, say that business conditions are good, although a shrinking number also expect conditions to improve over the next six months.

Fewer respondents — 37.5 percent compared to 40.7 percent — believe that it’s difficult to land jobs now, but fewer also think there’ll be more work available in the months ahead.

“Lack of money/finances has been the thorn in consumers’ side,” wrote Jonathan Basile, economics director at Credit Suisse, in a note Tuesday. “The fallback keeps money concerns a front burner issue.”

A separate measure Tuesday from Gallup found that American’s economic confidence last week remained close to a four-year high.

The research group’s index, which is calculated differently than the Conference Board’s, was stable at -19 from the earlier week and within two points of the all-time high, which it hit late last month.

Since slumping to -54 in September, the index has been gradually recovering.

Gallup, which combines respondents’ ratings of current economic conditions and their perceptions of whether the economy is improving or worsening, theorized that Americans may be hoping that gas prices have peaked for the year.

Still, more than half of Americans said that the U.S. economy is deteriorating, while 42 percent were more optimistic. More than 4 in 10 think the economy is doing poorly; 15 percent say it’s “excellent” or “good.”

“It seems unlikely that economic confidence will build on its recent gains, given the current climate that includes doubts about the unemployment situation, the financial difficulties created by the situation in Europe, China’s economy seeming to slow down, and Wall Street taking a tumble,” wrote Dennis Jacobe, Gallup’s chief economist, in a post Tuesday.

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