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Slide in U.S. Consumer Comfort Ends as Gasoline Prices Decrease

May 26, 2011

Press Release

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index Was Minus 48.4 in the
Period to May 22

New York — A monthlong slide in U.S. consumer confidence ended
last week as gasoline prices retreated.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to minus 48.4 in the
period to May 22 from a nine-month low of minus 49.4 the prior
week. Readings of minus 40 or less are generally associated with
recessions and their aftermaths, the report said.

“The combination of a difficult labor market, falling housing
prices and rising inflation has given the consumer a case of the
blues that will not likely fade any time soon,” said Joseph
, a senior economist at Bloomberg LP in New York.

For full CCI results, see:

A 12-cent decline in gasoline prices last week, the biggest drop
since November 2008, may limit further strains on sentiment and
help underpin consumer spending, which makes up 70 percent of
the economy. At the same time, gains in wages have failed to
keep up with the jump in prices, giving Americans little reason
to cheer.

The rise in the comfort gauge last week was within the survey’s
margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Other reports today showed the economy grew less than forecast
in the first quarter, and the number of Americans filing first-
time applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly
increased last week.

Gross domestic product expanded at a 1.8 percent annual rate,
reflecting a smaller gain in consumer spending than previously
calculated. Growth was the same as estimated last month by the
Commerce Department and compared with a 2.2 percent increase
forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of economists.

Jobless claims increased by 10,000 to 424,000 in the week ended
May 21, according to the Labor Department. Economists had
predicted a drop to 404,000.

Two of the three components of the Bloomberg comfort index
gained last week, the figures showed.

The personal-finances gauge rose to minus 13.7 from minus 16.5
the previous week. The 2.8 percentage-point increase, the
biggest improvement in two months, failed to make up for ground
lost over the prior four weeks.

The buying-climate index increased to minus 55.8 from minus 56.1
the previous week.

A gauge of Americans’ views of the economy was minus 75.7,
little changed from the previous week’s minus 75.6.

“The biggest concerns that I have on an ongoing basis are
anything that impacts the consumer’s ability to buy
discretionary items: gas, jobs,” said Ken Hicks, chief executive
officer of Foot Locker Inc., the largest U.S. athletic shoe
store chain. “As those stay up, that is a challenge.”

The two-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts President Barack
Obama signed into law in December has helped consumers cope with
higher food and energy costs, Hicks said during a May 20
conference call with analysts.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline nationally
dropped to $3.84 on May 22, down from $3.96 seven days earlier,
according to AAA, the nation’s largest auto club.

“Having prices go down undeniably is better than their going
up,” Gary Langer, president of Langer Research Associates LLC in
New York, which compiles the index for Bloomberg, said in a
statement. “There may be relief in sight.”

Nonetheless, Langer said fuel prices were the highest on record
during the month of May going back to 1990, when the U.S.
Department of Energy began keeping record.

A housing market struggling to stabilize is also weighing on
consumers’ spirits as home values fall alongside an unemployment
that indicates more homeowners may risk defaulting on their
mortgage payments.

The jobless rate climbed in April for the first time in five
months, rising to 9 percent. It averaged 5.3 percent during the
expansion that ended in December 2007.

Home prices dropped 5.5 percent in the first quarter from a year
earlier, the biggest decline in almost two years, as sales of
discounted foreclosures undermined real estate values, the
Washington-based Federal Housing Finance Agency said yesterday.

The Bloomberg comfort index for consumers in the South fell for
the fifth-consecutive week to the lowest level this year.

The index remained most negative in the West, where it rose from
the lowest level since record-keeping began in 1990.

Comfort among unmarried Americans also fell to minus 61.1, the
lowest level in more than a year, from minus 37 five weeks

A five-week period in which sentiment among Democrats was higher
than Republicans also came to an end last week as the former
lost confidence while the latter gained.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index is based on responses to
telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,000 consumers
aged 18 and over. Each week, 250 respondents are asked for their
views on the economy, personal finances and buying climate; the
percentage of negative responses is subtracted from the share of
positive views and divided by three.

The comfort index can range from 100, indicating every
participant in the survey had a positive response to all three
components, to minus 100, signaling all views were negative. The
margin of error for the headline reading is 3 percentage points.

Field work for the index is done by SSRS/Social Science Research
Solutions in Media, Pennsylvania.


Kristin Swenson, +1 212-617-4264,