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Consumer Sentiment Edges Lower in October

U.S. consumer sentiment fell slightly in early October to its lowest in more than a year as uncertainty grew about the extent of the housing slump, a survey released Friday showed.

The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said its early October figure on consumer sentiment was 82.0, below the median forecast of 84.0 and the final September reading of 83.4, for the lowest reading since August 2006.

U.S. retailers' sales rose a bigger-than-expected 0.6 percent in September, the Commerce Department said on Friday.

"The government's retail sales report showed that consumers were still spending in September, but this consumer sentiment index indicates that consumers could hold back a little bit in the future," said Gary Thayer, chief economist at A.G. Edwards and Sons in St. Louis, Missouri.

One in three households reported in early October that their personal financial situation had worsened, a view that has remained largely unchanged during the past six months.

Consumer sentiment is often seen as a proxy for future spending, which accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

The data indicate an average growth rate of 2.0 percent in personal consumption expenditures over the next four quarters, with the weakest quarters around the turn of the year, as well as continued declines in housing starts and new and existing home sales through at least mid-2008, the survey group said.

The survey's gauge of current consumer conditions rose to 98.2 in early October from 97.9 in September but it was almost 10 points lower than the final reading for October 2006.

Consumer expectations fell to 71.6 from 74.1 in September, about 13 points below the final reading for October 2006.

The fall in the expectations index "is not a good thing for this time of the year," A.G. Edwards' Thayer said, referring to the upcoming holiday buying season.

The survey's one-year inflation index slipped to 3.0 percent in early October from 3.1 in September, while the five-year index dipped to 2.8 percent from 2.9 percent.

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