Consumer Confidence: Watching the Wallow

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Consumer confidence reached its best since early October this week and pessimism about the future matched the five-year low it set in August. Whether it's recovery is another question.

The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -45 on its scale of +100 to -100, up 6 points in three weeks to its best since Oct. 4. The problem: The CCI has matched this mark three times since late August, only to fall back.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

So far, then, it's been a wallow, one that hasn't lifted confidence out of its historic lows. The CCI's average so far this year is -48, 4 points below the worst annual average on record, -44 in 1992, and well off its 23-year average, -12 in weekly polls since late 1985.

Expectations for the future, though, add a little spice – albeit just a little. In a separate, forward looking measure, 31 percent say the economy's still getting worse – hardly an inspiration, given how bad it already is, but matching the mid-August level for the fewest since January 2004. (It was just a point off this number last month.)

The "getting worse" number, moreover, has been below a majority for 10 months, the best such run since 2005. On the other hand, just 28 percent say the economy's improving; that tapered off after a 2009 peak of 33 percent in May. And that leaves 38 percent who think the economy's holding steady – again not a happy outlook given its condition.

With jobs a clear element of the public's economic discontent, the Obama administration has announced a "job creation summit" Dec. 3 – a day before the next unemployment report is to be released.

INDEX – Of the three components of the current sentiment index, 46 percent of Americans now rate their personal finances positively, the best since late August and 7 points higher than its record low in June. But it's still 11 points below average, and has languished below a majority for 27 weeks straight and all but two weeks this year.

Twenty-six percent rate the buying climate positively, up 5 points in three weeks – the best such gain since September 2008. But this gauge remains 11 points below average and under 30 percent positive for a record 88 weeks.

Positive ratings of the national economy, at 11 percent, are the same as last week, 27 points below their long-term average.

INDEX TREND – The index, while still struggling, is its best in six weeks, having elbowed its way up 6 points since hitting -51 three weeks ago. It hasn't moved that far that fast since last spring, on its way to the year's best, -42 May 10.

Still, the CCI's been below -40 for 82 consecutive weeks, a record, and hasn't seen positive territory since March 2007.

Its best yearlong average was +29 in 2000; its best week, +38 in January 2000.

GROUPS – The index, as usual, is higher among better-off Americans but has been negative across the board for 38 weeks straight, the longest such run in data since 1990.

It's -24 among those with the highest incomes but -74 among those with the lowest, -37 among people who've attended college vs. -53 among high school dropouts (the best since March), -39 among men (the best since July) while -48 among women, -40 among homeowners compared with -52 among renters, and -41 among whites (the best since May) vs. -56 among blacks. The last is far different from the usual 28-point racial gap.

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