Consumer confidence is at its lowest level in three months as positive ratings of the buying climate hit their worst of the year.
The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -51 on its scale of +100 to -100, the second straight week at -50 or below and down 6 points in three weeks to its lowest since mid-July. That puts the CCI in striking distance of its worst ever, -54 in January. Confidence has been this bad or worse only 16 times in over 1,240 weeks of polls, all occurring since May 2008.
The 6-point, three-week slide in confidence coincides with a 6-point drop in positive ratings of the buying climate over the same stretch. Only 21 percent now rate the buying climate positively, down from 27 percent on Oct. 4. Positive ratings of the economy and personal finances have been steadier.
The dismal state of consumer confidence suggests that the recession is decidedly not over, regardless of statements to the contrary from leading economists. In a separate ABC News/Washington Post poll last week, a resounding 82 percent reported – based on their experience and despite what economists have said – the recession is not over.
Beyond broader economic concerns, a factor in the weak buying climate may be related to the recent run-up in gas prices, up 19 cents in the past two weeks. There is slightly better news on the housing front; the Case-Shiller Home Price Index released today shows seven months of slowing depreciation, but still home values are down by 30 percent from their peak in May 2006.
INDEX – The CCI is based on Americans' ratings of the buying climate, their personal finances and the national economy. As noted, ratings of the buying climate are at 21 percent positive, just 3 points from the record low last reached a year ago. They're 16 points below the long-term average and have been below 30 percent for a record 85 weeks.
Ratings of personal finances, typically the best of the CCI's three measures, are at 43 percent positive, 14 points below average and below a majority for 24 weeks straight and all but two weeks this year.
Positive ratings of the national economy, at 10 percent, have been in double digits for six consecutive weeks – the best such run in a year. But at a whopping 28 points below average, they're in terrible shape.
TREND – At -51 this week, the index is at its lowest point since July 12 and stands only 3 points from the record low, -54 on Jan. 25. It's slipped 6 points since the beginning of the month, the second steepest such drop this year.
The index's been below -40 for a record 79 consecutive weeks, and hasn't seen positive territory since March 2007. Its average for the year so far is -48, 36 points below its long-term average and 4 points below the worst annual average on record, -44 in 1992. It's miles from its best annual average, +29 in 2000, and all-time best, +38 in January 2000.
GROUPS – The index is higher as usual among better-off Americans, but has been negative across the board for 35 weeks straight, the longest such run in data since 1990.