Consumer confidence in the U.S. climbed for a sixth straight week, the longest such stretch since early 2006, as Americans grew more secure about their finances.
The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose in the week ended Sept. 30 to minus 36.9, a three-month high, from minus 39.6 in the previous period. Households were also less pessimistic about the buying climate and the economy. Another report showed claims for jobless benefits increased last week from a two-month low.
Fifty percent of those surveyed had “positive” views of their finances, the most since July, helping explain a pickup in September chain-store sales that beat analysts’ forecasts. Higher home values, rising stocks and stable gasoline prices may be alleviating some of the anxiety caused by an unemployment rate stuck above 8 percent since February 2009.
“The improvement hasn’t been huge, but it’s definitely noticeable,” said Guy Berger, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. “There feels like there’s a little more traction.”
First-time jobless claims climbed by 4,000 to 367,000 in the week ended Sept. 29, according to a report today from the Labor Department. A Labor Department report tomorrow may show employers took on 115,000 workers in September, more than the prior month, while the jobless rate rose to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent, according to the Bloomberg survey median.
Greater confidence may be helping sustain spending. Sales at stores open at least a year rose 3.9 percent, beating the average estimate of a 3.7 percent gain, a survey by Swampscott, Massachusetts-based Retail Metrics Inc. showed today.
Purchases at TJX Cos. climbed 6 percent, more than the average estimate for a 4.4 percent gain from analysts surveyed by researcher Retail Metrics. Target Corp., the second-largest U.S. discounter, posted a 2.1 percent increase. Retailers benefited from back-to-school promotions that drove traffic early in September before tapering off in the middle of the month.
Stocks rose after the reports and as Europe’s central bank held the line on interest rates. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.7 percent to 1,461.4 at the close in New York.
The European Central Bank kept its benchmark rate at 0.75 percent, as projected by 48 out of 52 economists in a Bloomberg survey.
Orders placed with U.S. factories fell in August by the most in more than three years, signaling that slowdowns in business investment and exports restrained the expansion, Commerce Department figures showed today. The 5.2 percent decrease in bookings was the biggest since January 2009 and followed a revised 2.6 percent increase.
All three of the comfort index’s components improved. The barometer of the state of the economy rose to minus 68.7 from minus 70.3 the previous week. The index measuring Americans’ views on their personal finances rose to minus 0.4, the highest since the end of July, from minus 3.6. Americans’ views on the buying climate improved to minus 41.4 from minus 44.8 the previous week.
“There’s definitely going to be a bigger change for the better considering things couldn’t really get much worse,” said Mike Ganis, a 27-year-old from Los Angeles who works in communications. As for the economy, “hopefully we’ve hit the worst and that’s that.”
The consumer comfort gauge averaged minus 41.6 in the third quarter, weaker than the first two quarters. Still, the average is better than any period from the second quarter of 2008 through the fourth quarter of 2011.
“We’re finally seeing an uptick in consumer sentiment, consumer confidence,” Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations at General Motors Co., said on a conference call on Oct. 2. The company reported that its U.S. sales rose 1.5 percent in September from a year earlier.
At the same time, the Bloomberg survey showed 84 percent of Americans rate the economy negatively and 71 percent said they think it is a bad time to buy things they want and need.
The Bloomberg survey showed Americans making more than $100,000 became confident in the economy for the first time in two months.
Confidence improved in all regions except the Midwest, and optimism among women and renters rose to the highest level since April.
With the presidential election one month away, advances in sentiment over the past few weeks have been bipartisan. Confidence among Republicans climbed to minus 34, the highest since April, from minus 42.2 the prior week. The index among Democrats advanced to minus 25.9 from minus 30.1.
Independents were the most bleak, with sentiment falling to minus 44.5 from minus 43.6.
Signs of recovery in the housing market may be bolstering confidence. Home prices in 20 U.S. cities climbed more than forecast in July from the previous year, according to S&P/Case-Shiller figures. The gain is helping make up for a slowdown in manufacturing.