Consumer Confidence Drops More Than Expected In March

U.S. consumer confidence slipped further than expected in March as rising gas prices and recent turmoil in financial markets exacerbated worries about the immediate future, a survey showed on Tuesday.

Recent Consumer Confidence Reports

Index Level
2006 - Dec 110.0 + 4.7
2007 - Jan 110.2 + 0.2
2007 - Feb 111.2 + 1.0
2007 - Mar 108.2 - 3.0
2007 - Apr 106.3 - 1.9
2007 - May 108.0 + 1.7
source: Haver Analytics

The New York-based Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index fell to to 107.2, down from the revised 111.2 in February. Analysts had expected a reading of 109. The March index was the lowest since November 2006 when the reading was 105.3.

In a statement, Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said that despite diminished expectations, consumers' assessment of the economy was steady and the report does not "suggest a weakening in economic conditions."

"The recent turmoil in financial markets coupled with the run-up in gasoline prices may have contributed to consumers' heightened sense of uncertainty and concern. The direction of both components over the next few months bears watching to determine whether this decline is just a bump in the road or something more substantial," Franco said.

Economists closely monitor consumer confidence because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity.

"It's still a pretty decent level for confidence," said Michael Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners. "We're well above the historical average. It's not surprising given the fears, or one could say hysteria, around the subprime, the short-term weakness in equities, and the rise in gas prices, this isn't a huge surprise."

Labor market conditions remain mixed, the Conference Board said. Consumers surveyed who said jobs were "plentiful" increased to 30.5% in March from 27.8% in February.

Those who said jobs were "hard to get" increased to 19.1% in March from 17.9% in February.