Consumer Reports Index: Retail Activity Softens As Consumer Confidence Takes Baby Step Back

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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.

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Consumer Sentiment, reported by the Consumer Reports Index

The recovery is progressing, but slowly. June was a very positive month for the economy. It is hard for consumers to maintain that level of optimism month over month, so there are going to be step backs along the way.

The Consumer Reports Index, an overall measure of Americans’ personal financial health, showed that retail activity in the past 30 days declined to 8.1 from 8.6 a month earlier, and is now at its lowest level since first measured in April 2009.

Consumers reported that their planned spending for the next 30 days, reflecting potential August activity, is up from the prior month, but remains weak at 7.5 relative to 8.8 one year ago.

The Consumer Reports Index’s sentiment measure remains in positive territory, but fell to 50.8 from 52.0 a month earlier, with the largest drop occurring among middle-income Americans, down 2.7 points.

The index’s trouble tracker measure showed the amount of financial troubles consumers reported in July were down to 34.7 from 39.2 the prior month. The trouble tracker addresses both the proportion of consumers that have faced difficulties as well as the number of hurdles they have encountered. Overall, the most prevalent consumer troubles included: Unable to afford medical bills or medications (11.4%), missed payment on a major bill – not mortgage (6.0%), and lost or reduced health care coverage (4.7%).

“The recovery is progressing, but slowly. June was a very positive month for the economy. It is hard for consumers to maintain that level of optimism month over month, so there are going to be step backs along the way,” said Ed Farrell, director of consumer insight at Consumer Reports National Research Center.

The Consumer Reports Index’s employment measure showed job losses paced job gains, leading to an overall drop. The proportion of Americans claiming to have started a new job in the past 30 days (5.8%) fell sharply from last month (7.7%). The middle class was particularly hard hit, with job losses exceeding job gains.

The level of stress that consumers felt was down slightly from the prior month, 53.7 versus 55.7, respectively. The most stressed Americans: women (55.5), those in households earning under $50,000 (58.7), aged 65+ (56.8), and those in the South (55.0).

“The numbers we have seen suggests it is not mounting economic trouble that is holding consumers back, but instead insufficient job growth and failing consumer confidence. A scenario of robust growth is difficult to imagine without improvement in these areas,” said Farrell.

The Consumer Reports Index report comprises responses directly from consumers on 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 1,005 interviews were completed (655 telephone and 350 cell phone) among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place between July 25 and July 28. 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, CFields(at)consumer(dot)org
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AUGUST 2013
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Consumer Reports
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