February’s Consumer Reports Index, a measure of overall consumer financial health, showed that conditions have improved, but gains were uneven. Consumer sentiment is up; however, employment wavered and retail activity was lackluster in what is usually a light shopping month. The financial stress felt by those in households making less than $50,000, who make up about half of all adults, remains high.
The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index addresses both the proportion of consumers that have faced difficulties, as well as the number of hurdles they have encountered. This Index improved by falling slightly to 49.1 after registering 50.4 in January, and is substantially better than a year ago (58.7). However, for those living in households with income less than $50,000 the Trouble Tracker Index stands at 69.4, more than two times as great as those in households earning $100,000 or more (28.1).
The Consumer Reports Employment Index slipped back into negative territory (49.5), with past 30-day job losses (5.7 percent) outpacing job gains (4.7 percent). Some of this is likely associated with the loss of positions created for the holiday season.
January’s drop in retail was led by weak sales in personal electronics, major home electronics and small appliances. The Past 30-Day Retail Index for February, reflecting purchases made in January, was 11.8, down from 15.0 in December. The Next 30-Day Retail Index, which reflects planned spending for February, was down to 7.1, compared to 7.9 in January.
“Despite improving jobs data released by the government, employment concerns weigh heavily on consumers,” said Ed Farrell, a director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center. “This uncertainty surrounding employment is likely suppressing retail activity, further exacerbating the problem.”
February’s Consumer Reports Sentiment Index, which measures how consumers are doing financially versus a year ago, rose to 49.6, up from 48.2 in January. The most optimistic consumers were ages 18 to 34, and households earning $50,000-$99,999. The most pessimistic consumers were those in households earning less than $50,000 and people ages 65 and older.
With the passing of the holidays, the level of stress that consumers felt was down this month, and is at its lowest level since it was first measured in April 2009. The Stress Index is now 55.3, down slightly from 56.0 the prior month.
The Consumer Reports Index, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is a monthly telephone and cell phone poll of a nationally representative probability sample of American adults. A total of 1,034 interviews were completed (784 telephone and 250 cell phone) among adults aged 18 and older. Interviewing took place between January 26 and January 29. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.