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Satisfaction index a sign of optimism for holidays


Ann Arbor, Mich. The American Customer Satisfaction Index, released Tuesday, fell 0.1% -- to 76 out of 100 points -- compared with the previous three months.

But the score is up 1.4% from the same quarter in 2008.

"That means consumers are more willing to spend than they were a year ago, even if gains slowed since earlier this year," said Claes Fornell, founder of the index based at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a professor of business administration. "So far it's not quite as dreadful as expected."

The quarterly index tracks satisfaction with different industries by interviewing customers about how they liked certain products. In the third quarter, the index looked at food, apparel, beer, cigarettes, pet food, soft drinks, athletic shoes and personal-care product companies.

In the previous quarter, the index results predicted consumer spending would rise 3.25% in the third quarter. Actual third-quarter spending growth hit 3.35%, Dr. Fornell said. Government efforts, such as incentives to promote car buying, contributed to that gain.

At this point, Dr. Fornell expects fourth-quarter spending to grow between 2% and 3%, as employment and consumer confidence remain shaky.

But even that would mean retail spending would be above this time last year, when the financial crisis was fresh and scary. "The mystery is, of course, where the money's coming from," he said, noting consumer credit remains tight or expensive.

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