Consumer Comfort in U.S. Climbs From Lowest Level in Nine WeeksVictoria Stilwell
Consumer confidence rose from a nine-week low as Americans grew more upbeat about the economy, their finances and the buying climate.
The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to minus 29.1 in the period ended April 13 from minus 31.9 the prior week, the weakest reading since the start of February. The monthly economic expectations gauge improved in April after falling to a four-month low.
Sentiment recovered broadly last week among most income groups, with consumers’ spirits lifted in part by warmer weather that’s helped lower home-heating bills. Employment opportunities that propel bigger wage gains will provide Americans the wherewithal to extend a recent pickup in spending, supporting the economy.
“Both the labor market and growth have stabilized, albeit at low levels, which has bolstered the confidence of Americans in their own individual personal finances and the state of the national economy,” said Joseph Brusuelas, a senior economist at Bloomberg LP in New York. “Across the board in income levels, you saw broad improvement.”
Another report today showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment insurance payments last week hovered near the lowest level in almost seven years, showing the job market is making progress. Jobless claims increased by 2,000 to 304,000 in the week ended April 12 from a revised 302,000 the prior period that was the lowest since September 2007, according to Labor Department figures.
Stocks were little changed following equities’ best three-day rally in two months as investors weighed results from Google Inc. to Morgan Stanley. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 0.1 percent to 1,860.3 at 9:40 a.m. in New York.
The comfort survey’s weekly a measure of views of the economy improved to minus 52.9 last week, the strongest reading in a month, from minus 53.8.
The Bloomberg monthly economic expectations gauge jumped 8 points to minus 4, the biggest gain since November. Some 27 percent of those surveyed said the economy was getting better, while fewer indicated it was worsening.
The weekly gauge of personal finances rose to 2.7 from minus 2.9 the week prior, which was the worst reading since early November.
The survey’s measure of the buying climate increased to minus 37.3 from minus 39.1.
The improvement in confidence follows a pickup in spending as Americans, bolstered by steady job growth and fewer firings, feel more secure about their financial situations. Retail sales jumped a more-than-forecast 1.1 percent in March following a 0.7 percent advance in February that was more than twice as large as previously reported, Commerce Department figures showed this week.
The increase was led by the biggest gain in motor-vehicle purchases since September 2012. Cars and light trucks sold in March at a 16.3 million annualized rate, the fastest since May 2007, following a 15.3 million pace the prior month, according to data from Ward’s Automotive Group.
Further gains in the job market would help provide a bigger boost to confidence. Payrolls climbed by 192,000 workers in March after a 197,000 increase the previous month that was larger than first estimated, the Labor Department said earlier this month. Private payrolls, which exclude those at government agencies, exceeded the pre-recession peak for the first time.
Gains in sentiment last week were evident across most income brackets, today’s data showed. The measure of confidence among those earning $25,000 to $39,900 rose to minus 40.4, the best reading in five weeks, from minus 45.4.
Among the regions, sentiment strengthened in the Northeast as temperatures warmed. The confidence gauge increased to minus 17.2 from minus 27.5, the biggest one-week improvement since March 2010. The South was the only area to show a decline.
The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, compiled by Langer Research Associates in New York, conducts telephone surveys with a random sample of 1,000 consumers ages 18 and older. Each week, 250 respondents are asked for their views on the U.S. economy, personal finances and buying climate. The margin of error for the headline figure is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The percentage of negative responses is subtracted from the share of positive views and divided by three. The most recent reading is based on the average of responses over the previous four weeks.
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.