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Consumer Confidence in U.S. Little Changed as Outlook Cools

Consumer Confidence in U.S. Little Changed
The share of households planning to buy a car dropped to the lowest level since comparable records began in November 2010. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Confidence among U.S. consumers was little changed in April as expectations over the outlook tempered increased optimism about the present.

The Conference Board’s confidence index was at 69.2 com-pared to a revised 69.5 in the prior month, figures from the New York-based private research group showed today. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a reading of 69.6.

The smallest increase in employment in five months may have raised concern that growth is not fast enough to reduce unemployment. The report also showed households trimmed buying plans for automobiles, homes and vacations, showing that more jobs will be needed to boost consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy.

“Overall, consumers are more upbeat about the state of the economy, but they remain cautiously optimistic,” Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement.

A separate report today showed home prices in 20 cities dropped at a slower pace in the year ended February, pointing to stabilization in the real-estate market. The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values fell 3.5 percent from a year earlier, the smallest 12-month drop since February 2011, a report from the group showed in New York.

Home Sales

In another sign the housing market is mending, sales on new houses were stronger than forecast in March, data from the Commerce Department also showed. Purchases came in at a 328,000 annual rate, a decline of 7.1 percent from an upwardly revised 353,000 pace in February, a two-year high. Economists forecast a rate of 319,000, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. Inventory declined to a record low and the median selling price rose from a year ago, the report also showed.

Stocks climbed after the reports, led by homebuilder shares. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.6 percent to 1,374.4 at 10:10 a.m. in New York. The S&P Supercomposite Homebuilding Index advanced 1.7 percent.

Also today, a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond showed manufacturing in its region grew at a faster pace this month.

Estimates for consumer confidence ranged from 67 to 74 in the Bloomberg survey of 74 economists. The measure averaged 53.7 during the recession that ended in June 2009.

Other Measures

Among other measures, the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index improved in the week ended April 15 to match the highest level in four years as more Americans said their finances were in better shape. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment cooled in April from a one-year high.

The Conference Board’s measure of present conditions increased to 51.4, the highest level since September 2008, from 49.9 a month earlier. The gauge of expectations for the next six months declined to 81.1 from 82.5.

The share of consumers who said jobs are currently plentiful decreased to 8.4 percent from 9 percent. Those who said jobs are hard to get fell to 37.5 percent, the fewest since November 2008, from 40.7 percent.

The percent of respondents expecting more jobs to become available in the next six months decreased to 16.9 from 17.4 the previous month. The proportion who expect their incomes to rise over the next six months declined to 14 percent from 15.5 percent.

Spending Plans

The share of households planning to buy a car dropped to the lowest level since comparable records began in November 2010. Consumers also cut back on plans to buy houses and take vacations.

Employers have increased payrolls by 1.13 million workers over the past six months, and the jobless rate dropped to 8.2 percent in March, compared with 9 percent in September.

State Street Corp., the third-largest custody bank, is looking for a “modest” increase in operating revenue this year as the U.S. is expected to “continue its slow recovery,” according to Joseph Hooley, chief executive officer.

“Our cautious outlook is consistent with a moderate improvement in U.S. markets,” Hooley said on an April 17 conference call with analysts. “Consumer confidence has improved slightly, but housing prices continue to slide as unemployment continues to be a challenge.”

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