Consumers apply for Costco membership at the Glendale store in February. (AP Photo / Damian Dovarganes )
WASHINGTON — Reading the attitudes of American consumers is getting to be as complicated as divining the preferences of American voters.
Just as President Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney keep switching places in daily tracking polls, consumer confidence is on a roller-coaster ride depending on which gauge you check.
The Conference Board said Monday that consumer confidence fell in May for the third straight month. That reading comes on the heels of the latest Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey of consumers, released Friday, that showed consumer confidence reaching its highest level since 2007 after nine straight months of increases.
The two indexes are the most closely followed for consumer attitudes.
They both calculate confidence by taking a random sample of consumer attitudes. But with the economy as volatile as the nation's politics these days, the findings can come out differently.
The Conference Board, a private research group, said its index was at 64.9 in May, down from 68.7 in April. The reading came in below market expectations.
This month's drop was sharper than in April, when the index had been down just slightly.
"Consumers were less positive about current business and labor-market conditions, and they were more pessimistic about the short-term outlook," said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board. "However, consumers were more upbeat about their income prospects, which should help sustain spending."
Consumers had a lower appraisal of the current conditions of the economy and the job market in May, the Conference Board said. Respondents who described business conditions as bad rose to 34.3% from 33.2%, while those who said business conditions were good dropped to 13.6% from 15.5%.
Ahead of Friday's jobs report, consumers who said jobs were hard to get increased to 41% last month from 38.1%. Respondents who thought jobs were plentiful dropped to 7.9% from 8.4%.
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