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Consumer confidence up for sixth straight month?

Despite February's more upbeat perspective, Americans say their personal finances are still in rough shape, a survey finds.

February 25, 2012|By Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington — Consumer confidence rose in February for the sixth straight month, according to a leading barometer, with 29% of the respondents saying they expected the unemployment rate to go down.

The percentage of people expressing optimism about the job market was the highest since 2004, according to data released Friday by the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers.

The consumer sentiment index rose to 75.3 in February, up 0.4% from the previous month.

But despite the more upbeat perspective, Americans reported that their personal finances were still in rough shape.

For the 41st straight month, the number of households saying their income had declined from the previous month exceeded those reporting greater income. And for the 28th consecutive month, a majority of respondents said they did not anticipate their household income increasing over the next year.

Still, overall consumer confidence continued to climb after bottoming out last summer amid the partisan debate in Washington over raising the debt ceiling and the subsequent downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor's. The group's consumer sentiment index was 54.9 in August, the lowest since 1980.

"Consumers have shrugged off concerns about rising gas prices, the European crisis and election year politics, preferring to focus on the favorable impact of job growth," said Survey of Consumers chief economist Richard Curtin.

"A potential threat is that consumers expect too much too soon," he said. "Improved job prospects may entice many more people to seek work, easily outstripping the number of new jobs created."

Survey respondents were keenly aware of the improving economic conditions, particularly in the job market. Unemployment slipped to 8.3% in January after the government reported that the economy saw a net gain of 243,000 jobs. The rate was 9.1% in August.

A third of the 501 respondents spontaneously offered that they had heard about the recent employment gains, the highest level of such comments about employment gains since the survey began in 1946.

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

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