Consumer Comfort Index Declines for Fourth Straight Week

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Americans’ sentiment fell for a fourth straight week as still-rising gasoline prices drove a measure of the buying climate down by the most in eight months, the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index showed May 17.

Highlights of Consumer Comfort for the Week Ended May 12

• Weekly index fell to 54.6, lowest since early February, from 55.8.

• Measure of buying climate slumped to 45.8 from 47.5; gauge of personal finances slid to 62.1 from 62.7.

• Index tracking current views of the economy decreased to 55.8 from 57.2.

• Monthly gauge of economic expectations rose to 54.5 in May from prior month’s 52.5.

Key Takeaways

After reaching a 17-year high in mid-April, the weekly comfort index has stumbled 3.5 points as Americans’ pocketbooks get squeezed by the highest fuel prices since late 2014.

Sentiment fell across most income groups and in three of four U.S. regions. Comfort was unchanged in the Midwest.

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Nonetheless, the setback in confidence due to costlier gasoline fill-ups in recent weeks contrasts with the latest consumer spending data. Retail sales posted a broad-based gain in April as bigger after-tax paychecks helped compensate for the pinch from fuel prices.

In addition, the monthly index of economic expectations showed confidence is being underpinned by steady hiring, the lowest unemployment rate since 2000 and the boost from lower taxes. Some 36% of respondents said the economy is “getting better,” compared with the 26% who said the economy is “getting worse.” Optimism has held at or above 36% for four consecutive months, the longest stretch in 32 years of data.

Other Details

• Weekly comfort gauge for Americans with annual income below $50,000 fell to 39.7, a two-month low, from 41.5.

• Index for those making more than $100,000 cooled to 75.7 from 76.3.

• Republicans’ comfort exceeded that of Democrats by 29 points, second-biggest gap since 2007.