Consumer Confidence Held Steady in March

SurveysMar 27, 2024

Consumer Confidence Held Steady in March

Optimism about the current state of the economy was offset by anxiety around inflation and the political environment.

Hand holding shopping bags
The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index slid down to 104.7 in March as consumers expressed concerns about inflation and anxiety about the future economy.
New York—U.S. consumer confidence was mostly unchanged in March as optimism about the current economy was offset by anxiety about the future, including the political environment.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index slipped to 104.7 in March, down slightly from a downwardly revised 104.8 in February.

Confidence rose among consumers aged 55 and over but fell for those under 55.

Consumers in the $50,000 to $99,999 income range reported lower confidence in March, while confidence improved slightly in all other income groups. 

Dana Peterson, chief economist at The Conference Board, noted that over the last six months, “confidence has been moving sideways with no real trend to the upside or downside either by income or age group.”

“Consumers remained concerned with elevated price levels, which predominated write-in responses. March’s write-in responses showed an uptick in concerns about food and gas prices, but in general complaints about gas prices have been trending downward,” said Peterson.

The average 12-month inflation expectations came in at 5.3 percent, relatively unchanged from February’s four-year low of 5.2 percent.

Recessions fears were trending downward, said the Conference Board, both in write-in responses and by its own measure.

The “Consumers’ Perceived Likelihood of a US Recession Over the Next 12 Months” returned to its downward trajectory after a brief uptick last month.

“Meanwhile, consumers expressed more concern about the U.S. political environment compared to prior months,” said Peterson.

The Present Situation Index, which measures consumers’ current view of business and labor market conditions, rose to 151 in March from 147.6 in February.

Consumers’ view of current business conditions was mixed in March, with the percentage of respondents who said current business conditions are “good” mostly flat at 20 percent, while those who said conditions are “bad” decreased to 17 percent from 18 percent.  

Consumers’ view of the labor market was more positive in March.

The percentage of respondents who felt jobs were plentiful was flat at 43 percent, while 11 percent said jobs were “hard to get,” down from 13 percent last month.

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The Expectations Index, which measures consumers’ outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions in the near future, fell to 73.8 from 76.3 in February.

Notably, an Expectations Index reading below 80 often signals a recession ahead, said the Conference Board.

Expectations for the next six months slipped to the lowest level since October 2023, it said.

Looking at short-term business conditions, respondents’ outlooks were more pessimistic, with 14 percent of respondents expecting business conditions to improve, flat from February, while the number of respondents that expect them to worsen was up to 18 percent from 17 percent.

Consumers’ assessment of the short-term labor market outlook in March was essentially unchanged from February.

The percentage of respondents who expect more jobs to be available was flat at 14 percent, while the number of respondents who expect fewer jobs to be available was also flat at 18 percent.

Consumers’ assessment of their short-term income prospects was also more pessimistic in March.

The number of respondents who expect their incomes to increase was up slightly to 17 percent from 16 percent in February. However, more respondents (14 percent) expect their incomes to decrease, up from 12 percent.

Respondents also were more pessimistic about their family financial situation over the next six months, a measure not included in the Expectations Index. 

Consumers had a more positive view of stock prices throughout the year, but concerns about interest rates remained.

The percentage of consumers expecting an increase in interest rates over the year ahead rose above 50 percent for the first time since November 2023, said the Conference Board.

On a six-month basis, plans to buy automobiles, homes, and big-ticket appliances, all purchases that can be subject to interest rates, were down again. 

Planned spending for services in 2024 increased relative to the same time last year, it said, noting consumers plan to spend more on healthcare, motor vehicle services, and lodging for personal travel, while spending less on entertainment.

The Conference Board is scheduled to release its results for April on April 30.

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