Consumer confidence bump a ray of hope in bleak economic outlook

consumer confidence in action

Consumer confidence posted a modest gain in August -- data that bumped stocks and eased concerns that anemic consumer spending will derail economic recovery. Charlie Brewer/Flickr photo.

The Conference Board’s monthly report on its consumer confidence index showed that the metric used to gauge economic outlook actually bumped up a couple of points in August. The modest gain gave the stock market a jolt into positive territory Tuesday morning.

Consumer confidence index beats forecast

Consumer confidence rose in August to beat predictions. Bloomberg reports that the increase in the consumer confidence index to 53.5 from a five-month low of 51 in July could be a sign the biggest part of the economy may avoid a further slide that could effectively end a stalled economic recovery. But even with the increase, an economist told Bloomberg that the August consumer confidence figure is at a “stunningly low level.” Even so, higher confidence brings a ray of hope that consumer spending — 70 percent of the U.S. economy — will recover. To do that, companies need to start hiring more. Yet according to the Labor Department, companies created an average of 51,000 jobs from May through July — down from 200,000 the previous two months.

Consumer confidence report details

In addition to the consumer confidence index, the Conference Board report contains other details. MarketWatch reports that more consumers are pessimistic about the present situation of the economy, yet optimistic that conditions will improve. The Conference Board’s present-situation index — a measure of attitudes about business climate and job opportunities — dropped to 24.9 in August from 26.4 in July. The expectations index — a measure of expectations for a better business climate and more job creation — rose to 72.5 in August from 67.5 in July. Consumers planning to buy a home within six months moved to 2 percent from 1.9 percent. People planning to buy a car rose to 5 percent from 4.7 percent. An economist told MarketWatch that despite the August gains, consumer confidence is at “incredibly depressed levels,” compared with previous economic recoveries.

Bump in index doesn’t guarantee consumer spending

A consumer confidence index above 90 indicates a healthy economy, according to the Associated Press. Yet the August bump put the brakes on a sliding stock market Tuesday morning. About two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Like all recent market rallies, this one is expected to be short-lived. Most economic reports show economic growth is slowing, and the slight uptick in consumer confidence doesn’t guarantee an increase in consumer spending. A high unemployment rate continues to motivate consumer saving and debt reduction — behavior considered virtuous from a personal finance standpoint. But until the job market recovers and people open their wallets, the late-summer slump could continue for the rest of the year and drag the U.S. economy into a double-dip recession.

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