• Measures tracking views of economy and buying climate drop
  • Weekly personal-finances index climbs to highest since October

Consumer confidence in the U.S. fell last week to match the lowest level this year as Americans grew more pessimistic about the economy and the buying climate.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index slipped to 43.6 in the period ended March 20 from 44.3 the prior week. The measures tracking current views of the economy and the buying climate both dropped to the lowest level since mid-December, while perceptions of personal finances rose to a five-month high.

The divergence in attitudes “likely reflects mixed economic signals,” Gary Langer, president of the New York-based Langer Research Associates LLC, which compiles the data for Bloomberg, said in a statement. The weekly sentiment gauge has held in a 1-point range for 13 straight weeks, a streak that’s occurred just three other times in the measure’s 30-year history, according to the report.

“A strong labor market may be buoying personal finance evaluations, while lower-than-anticipated sales in housing and continuing difficulties due to oil prices and weak demand for exports are consistent with softening views of the national economy and buying climate alike,” Langer said.

Gasoline Prices

Americans are paying about $2 a gallon on average each time they fill up their vehicles, up 30 cents from a seven-year low in mid-February, data from motoring group AAA show.

The Bloomberg Comfort measure of views on the current state of the economy dropped to 34 from 35.4 the prior week, the biggest decline since November. The index has retreated in all but two of the last 10 weeks. 

The gauge tracking whether it’s a good time to make purchases fell to 38.3 from 39.5. The personal-finances index advanced to 58.6, the highest level since Oct. 11, from 58.1.

Thursday’s report also shows differing attitudes among lower and upper income earners. Confidence reached a five-month high among those making less than $50,000, while moods soured among those earning more than $75,000.

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