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Consumer Confidence Up in April : Economy: Despite reversal of three-month decline, analysts say widespread anxiety remains.

April 28, 1993|From Times Wire Services

NEW YORK — Consumer confidence rose in April after a three-month decline, according to a widely watched survey released Tuesday, but economists said the results still reflect widespread layoff anxiety and reluctance to spend or borrow money.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that Americans' personal income rebounded across much of the country last year, although sluggish California remained one of the states with the slowest-growing incomes.

Economists said the only major conclusion they drew from the Conference Board consumer confidence survey is that it may indicate consumer sentiment has stabilized after dropping from the higher levels of late last year.

"People don't have too much to cheer about, but it didn't get any worse," said Sandra Shaber, a consumer economist for the Wefa Group, a forecasting concern in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. "That's about the best you can say."

According to the survey by the private business research group, plans to buy an automobile were moderately higher in April than in March, and interest in major appliances was also "a bit stronger than a month ago." But it found that home-buying intentions remain weak.

The board said the index rose to 67.7 in April from 62.6 in March, well above economists' forecast of 63.3. The survey is based on a sample of 5,000 U.S. households nationwide. The base year is 1985.

In reporting the findings of its April survey, the Conference Board said people were more positive in their assessment of ongoing economic conditions and moderately more optimistic in their expectations for the months ahead.

However, it cautioned against over-optimism, saying the results are not a persuasive sign of economic strength.

"While the improved April consumer confidence reading is encouraging, a single month of improvement after three consecutive months of decline is still unconvincing," said Fabian Linden, executive director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center.

"Economic indicators continue to be mixed," he said. "While the number of jobs has been growing, the increase is still too slight to make any change in the level of unemployment."

The group said more people described business conditions now as "good"--14.9% compared to 12.4% in March.

However, there was a high level of concern over jobs, with less than 8% saying they are plentiful and more than 41% complaining that they are "hard to get."

The board said consumer expectations, which fell sharply during the first three months of the year, recovered only modest ground in April.

It said a marginal number of respondents see business conditions improving during the next six months, while a slightly larger proportion of people than a month ago expect more jobs to become available.

In its personal income report, the Commerce Department said hurricanes held back incomes in Florida and Hawaii and that defense spending cuts hurt California.

The department said incomes per person last year grew 3.9% nationally to $19,841, a clear advance over the 2.4% increase in 1991.

It was the first time income growth improved since 1989. Incomes grew 5.3% in 1990, 6.5% in 1989 and 6.2% in 1988.

Last year, income growth was faster than the 3.2% inflation rate in a special price index tied to the income figures.

The states with the fastest-growing incomes were North Dakota, 7.7%; Nebraska, 7.3%, and Iowa, 6%. All three were helped by farm income increases.

The states with the slowest growth were Hawaii, 0.7%; Florida and Alaska, both 2.2%, and California and Nevada, both 2.3%. Hawaii and Florida were both hit by hurricanes last fall.

Consumer Confidence From a monthly survey of 5,000 U.S. households. Index: 1985= 100 April, 1992: 65.1 April, 1993: 67.7 Source: The Conference Board

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