Consumer Reports Index: Retail Spending Continues Slide Despite Record High Sentiment & Slight Upturn in Employment

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The Consumer Reports Index, a gauge of overall consumer financial health, showed American’s retail spending declined for the fourth straight month despite significant improvements in sentiment, employment, stress and financial difficulties.

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This is the most positive showing for the economy since September 2011 and these broad gains may point to some real improvements. It will be interesting to see if this trends into the coming months.

The Consumer Reports Index, a gauge of overall consumer financial health, showed American’s retail spending declined for the fourth straight month despite significant improvements in sentiment, employment, stress and financial difficulties.

The Consumer Reports Index’s overall sentiment measure rose substantially this month, to 50.6 from the 44.6 the prior month. This jump marked the measure’s highest point in over two years. Sentiment climbed significantly for the most pessimistic consumers, those in households earning less than $50,000, as well as for wealthier Americans earning at least $100,000, who have trended more optimistic for some time now.

“This is the most positive showing for the economy since September 2011 and these broad gains may point to some real improvements. It will be interesting to see if this trends into the coming months,” said Ed Farrell, director of market research at the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Despite the positive upturn in sentiment, retail activity continued to slide. The Consumer Reports Index’s past 30-day retail measure fell slightly to 10.6 from 11.3 last month and has yet to regain its footing since the holidays. Looking ahead to planned activity in the next 30 days, which includes the Memorial Day sales weekend, the next 30-day retail measure was virtually unchanged at 8.3 from 8.0 the prior month.

In addition to a rise in confidence, the Consumer Reports Index’s trouble tracker declined sharply this month, dropping to 44.8 from 54.5 in April—its lowest level in 12 months. The trouble tracker posted its greatest declines among Americans in households earning less than $50,000 and adults with a college education or more.

The Consumer Reports Index’s employment measure crept into positive territory this month (50.5), up from last month (49.3). This gain is not a reflection of a surge in job creation, with job starts this month (5.3%) below last month (5.8%), but rather a decline in job loss, which dropped from last month’s recent high of 7.1% to 4.4%.

Pacing the improvement in sentiment and declines in financial difficulties measures, the Consumer Reports Index’s stress measure dropped to 56.3 from 64.3 last month—which was its highest reading since September 2009.

“Unless employment demonstrates a marked upturn, it is unlikely that consumers will feel secure enough to return to their past spending habits to fuel notable growth in the retail numbers,” Farrell said.

The Consumer Reports Index report, available at http://www.ConsumerReports.org, comprises five key measures: the Sentiment Index, the Trouble Tracker Index, the Stress Index, the Retail Index and the Employment Index.

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 1,008 interviews were completed (758 telephone and 250 cell phone) among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place between April 26 and April 29. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. The complete index report, methodology and tabular information are available. Contact: C. Matt Fields 914-378-2454 or cfields@consumer.org.

MAY 2012
© 2012 Consumer Reports. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for advertising or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports® is an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. We accept no advertising and pay for all the products we test. We are not beholden to any commercial interest. Our income is derived from the sale of Consumer Reports®, ConsumerReports.org® and our other publications and information products, services, fees, and noncommercial contributions and grants. Our Ratings and reports are intended solely for the use of our readers. Neither the Ratings nor the reports may be used in advertising or for any other commercial purpose without our permission. Consumer Reports will take all steps open to it to prevent commercial use of its materials, its name, or the name of Consumer Reports®.

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C. Matt Fields
Consumer Reports
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