Consumer confidence advanced for the first time in three months in an unusual one-week gain this week, lifting from its all-time low in 22 years of weekly polls.
The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index moved up 6 points to -45 on its scale of +100 to -100; it's increased by 6 or more points only eight times before. But it's still dreadful: Last week the CCI set a record low, -51, and it's been at -45 or lower for five weeks straight.
Ratings of the buying climate led this week's gain; consumers might be encouraged by government rebate checks. At the same time tight credit, the housing crisis and, above all, rising gas prices continue; gas was up four cents this week to a new record, $3.98.
INDEX – The CCI is based on Americans' ratings of their current finances, the national economy and the buying climate. Twenty-three percent rate the buying climate positively, up 4 points from last week's all-time low.
Ratings of the national economy, just 12 percent positive, are down 19 points this year and 28 points below their long-term average. Personal finances generally do better; they're now rated positively by 47 percent, 10 points below the long-term average.
TREND – Even with this week's spike, confidence is in a dire situation. In early March the index gained 7 points in two weeks to -30, but the advance proved brief; since then it dropped 21 points until this week.
As noted, the CCI has been at -45 or below for five weeks, the longest since a seven-week stretch that ended in November 1992. It has much farther to go to catch its record at -40 or less – it's been there for seven weeks, compared to a 37-week run in 1991-92.
Although up 6 points from last week's record low, the index is 11 points off this year's average, 35 points below its long-term average and 83 points below its record high, +38 in January 2000.
GROUPS – The CCI is higher, as usual, in better-off groups, but still negative across the board, including an uncharacteristically low -13 among higher-income Americans, as well as a grim -85 among those with the lowest incomes. It's -40 among people who've been to college while -50 among high-school dropouts and -43 among whites but -61 among blacks. It's closer than usual among men and women, -43 and -48 respectively.
Partisan differences still are strong: The index is -11 among Republicans, compared with -51 among independents and -62 among Democrats. The partisan gap is its largest since the first week of this year.
Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News CCI:
NATIONAL ECONOMY – Twelve percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was 10 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The lowest was 7 percent in late 1991 and early 1992.
PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-seven percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 45 percent last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 42 percent on March 14, 1993.
BUYING CLIMATE – Twenty-three percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was a record low 19 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000.