PhotoAfter posting a solid increase a month earlier, The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index moved sharply higher in March.

The index shot up 9.5 points to 125.6, with the Present Situation Index moving from 134.4 to 143.1 and the expectations Index increasing to 113.8 from 103.9 last month.

The index now stands at its highest point since December 2000.

“Consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions improved considerably,” said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco. “Consumers also expressed much greater optimism regarding the short-term outlook for business, jobs and personal income prospects.”

“Thus,” she added, “consumers feel current economic conditions have improved over the recent period, and their renewed optimism suggests the possibility of some upside to the prospects for economic growth in the coming months.”

Consumer perceptions

The appraisal by consumers of current conditions improved considerably in March. The percentage saying business conditions are “good” increased from 28.3% to 32.2%, while those who said they are “bad” fell to 12.9% from 13.4 percent.

Consumers’ assessment of the labor market was also more positive, as the proportion of consumers who think jobs are “plentiful” rose from 26.9% to 31.7%; those who believe jobs are “hard to get” slipped from 19.9% to 19.5%.

There also was significantly more optimism about the short-term outlook. More than 27% of consumers expect business conditions to improve over the next six months -- up more than 3% from February, while those expecting conditions to worsen dropped from 10.5% to 8.4%.

Consumers’ outlook for the labor market also was more upbeat. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased from 20.9% to 24.8%, while those anticipating fewer jobs declined from 13.6% to 12.2%.

The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to increase improved to 21.5% from 19.2%, while the proportion looking for a decrease dropped from 8.1% to 7.0%.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was March 16.



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