'Weak Economy With No Job Growth’ Sinks Consumer Confidence

Tuesday, 28 Jun 2011 10:30 AM

 

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Confidence among U.S. consumers unexpectedly fell in June to a seven-month low, indicating that slowing employment gains are weighing on Americans’ outlooks.

The Conference Board’s index decreased to 58.5 from a revised 61.7 reading in May that was higher than previously estimated, figures from the New York-based private research group showed today. Economists predicted the June gauge would rise to 61, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. The percent of respondents expecting an increase in job availability fell to the lowest in 11 months.

Joblessness hovering around 9 percent, rising inflation and falling share prices may keep household sentiment in check, raising the risk that the biggest part of the economy will stagnate. Employers last month added the fewest workers since September, and spending, adjusted for inflation, dropped for a second consecutive time, figures from the Labor and Commerce Departments showed.

“We have a fairly weak economy with little to no job growth,” said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. “With consumers so worried about their job prospects, I’m not so sure that we can count on demand picking up.”

Estimates for the Conference Board’s gauge ranged from 55 to 66.7 in the Bloomberg News survey of 69 economists. The index averaged 98 during the last economic expansion that ended in December 2007.

Stocks Higher

Stocks climbed on optimism that a deal can be reached to help Greece avoid defaulting on its debt. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 0.7 percent to 1,289.18 at 10:06 a.m. in New York. Treasuries fell, pushing up the yield on the benchmark 10- year note to 2.95 percent from 2.93 percent late yesterday.

The group’s measure of present conditions deceased to 37.6 from 39.3 in May. The measure of expectations for the next six months dropped to 72.4, the lowest since October, from 76.7.

Today’s report parallels other data on consumer sentiment. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment fell to 71.8 in June from 74.3 in May. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index declined to minus 44.9 for the week ended June 19 from minus 44.0 the prior week.

The percent of respondents in the Conference Board survey expecting more jobs to become available in the next six months slumped to 14.2 from 16.7 the previous month. The proportion expecting their incomes to rise over the next six months declined to 13.9 from 14.9 percent in May. The percent expecting a drop in incomes rose to the highest since August.

The share of consumers who said jobs are currently hard to get rose to 43.8 from 43.5 percent.

By Region

Confidence declined in eight of nine U.S. regions, today’s report showed.

Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, fell 0.1 percent in April and May after adjusting for changes in prices, a report yesterday from the Commerce Department showed. It was the first back-to-back decline since March and April 2009, when the economy was still in a recession.

Fewer respondents in the Conference Board’s survey indicated they were planning to buy cars, homes or major appliances in the next six months.

Weak employment gains may be keeping consumers out of stores. Employers added 54,000 jobs in May, the slowest pace in eight months, according to June 3 Labor Department figures.

Federal Reserve

Federal Reserve officials cut their projections for economic growth this year and raised their estimates for the jobless rate after their June 21-22 meeting, noting that “the damping effect of higher food and energy prices on consumer purchasing power and spending” contributed to the slowdown.

Gasoline prices retreated almost 30 cents per gallon to $3.55 on June 27 from an almost three-year high of $3.99 high on May 4, according to figures from AAA, the largest auto club. The decline may free up some income for consumers to spend on other goods and services.

The Conference Board’s report showed 38 percent of respondents, the most March 2009, expected stocks to decline in the next year.

Rick Dreiling, chairman and chief executive officer of Goodlettsville, Tennessee-based Dollar General Corp. (DG), said he expects continued unemployment to weigh on consumer confidence. The largest U.S. dollar-store chain posted a first-quarter profit on June 1 that fell short of analysts’ estimates.

“We are remaining cautious as unemployment, and just as importantly, underemployment, gas prices, food inflation and the general uncertainties of the economic outlook continue to challenge customers,” Dreiling said on a June 11 call with analysts.

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