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Consumer confidence falls in September amid concerns about future

A strong job market and lowering inflation are making Americans more confident about the economy.
Consumer confidence declined for the second consecutive month in September.

Americans are getting worried about what the next few months will bring, citing rising gas and food prices, higher interest rates and political uncertainty.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index declined for the second straight month in September, falling to 103.0 from an upwardly revised 108.7 in August. The Present Situation Index — based on consumers' assessment of current business and labor market conditions — rose slightly to 147.1 from 146.7. 

The Expectations Index—based on consumers' short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions—declined to 73.7 in September, after falling to 83.3 in August. 

Consumer fears of an impending recession also ticked back up, consistent with the short and shallow economic contraction The Conference Board said it anticipates for the first half of 2024.

September's disappointing headline number reflected another decline in the Expectations Index, as the Present Situation Index was little changed,” said Dana Peterson, Chief Economist at The Conference Board. “Write-in responses showed that consumers continued to be preoccupied with rising prices in general, and for groceries and gasoline in particular. Consumers also expressed concerns about the political situation and higher interest rates. “

The decline in consumer confidence was evident across all age groups, and notably among consumers with household incomes of $50,000 or more. 

The proportion of consumers saying recession is 'somewhat' or 'very likely' rose in September after dropping in August, with the fluctuating metrics likely reflect ongoing uncertainty given mixed buying plans, noted Peterson.  On a six-month moving average basis, plans to purchase autos were flat but remained at an elevated level, while plans to purchase appliances continued to trend upward. 

Meanwhile, plans to buy homes—more in line with rising interest rates—continued to trend downward.

The findings from the September  report are below.

Present Situation

Consumers’ assessment of current business conditions was slightly less pessimistic in September.

•While 20.9% of consumers said business conditions were “good,” down from 21.5 percent in August,

•16.4% said business conditions were “bad,” down from 17.3%.

Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market was slightly more positive in September.

•40.9% of consumers said jobs were “plentiful,” up from 39.9% in August.

•But 13.6% of consumers said jobs were “hard to get,” up from 13.2% last month.

Expectations Six Months Hence

Consumers were less optimistic about the short-term business conditions outlook in September.

  • 14.1% of consumers expect business conditions to improve, down from 17.5% in August.
  • Meanwhile, 18.4% expect business conditions to worsen, up from 17.3%.

Consumers’ assessment of the short-term labor market outlook was less favorable in September.

  • 15.5% of consumers expect more jobs to be available, down from 17.5% in August.
  • 18.9% anticipate fewer jobs, up from 18.0%.

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

  • 16.3% of consumers expect their incomes to increase, down from 18.7% in August.
  • Moreover, 14.4% expect their incomes will decrease, up from 11.9% last month.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey,  based on an online sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Toluna, a technology company that delivers real-time consumer insights and market research through its innovative technology, expertise, and panel of over 36 million consumers. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was September 18.

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