March’s Consumer Reports Index, a measure of overall consumer financial health, showed that the confidence of the American consumer is waning. After three months of improvement, the Consumer Reports Sentiment Index fell this month to 46.1, from 49.6 last month.
This may be explained in part by the fact that Americans are feeling greater stress as they face more financial woes. The Stress Index, a portion of the overall index, was up this month to 57.5 from 55.3 last month. The Trouble Tracker Index, which focuses on both the proportion of consumers that have faced financial difficulties as well as the number of negative events they have encountered, increased this month to 52.2 from 49.1 in February, and is now at its highest level since August 2011. The impact of these financial troubles is very different across income levels. The Trouble Tracker Index for those living in households earning less than $50,000, about half of all American adults, stands at 73.9, nearly four times as great as those in households earning $100,000 or more (18.9).
Consumers have been reining in their spending since the holidays. Consumer Reports Past 30-Day Retail Index fell slightly. However, planned purchasing over the next 30 days is 8.7, up from 7.1 the prior month, seeding hopes for an upturn in the near term.
“Consumers are not yet comfortable in their financial situation as the country limps into its fifth year of near-recessionary times,” said Ed Farrell, a director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center. “Weak retail is the symptom, not an underlying cause. Consumers will need a clear signal led by a greatly improved jobs outlook to resume spending.”
The Consumer Reports Employment Index this month (49.9) is once again approaching positive territory, but is little changed from February (49.5). In the past 30 days, roughly the same proportion of Americans reported starting a new job (5.8 percent) as losing a job (6.0 percent).
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 1,032 interviews were completed (782 telephone and 250 cell phone) among adults aged 18 and older. Interviewing took place between February 23 and February 26. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.