Consumer confidence is showing a faint pulse, inching up on the strength of improved sentiment about the buying climate.
The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index still is exceptionally low, -47 on its scale of +100 to -100. But it's climbed 5 points in three weeks to surpass -50, its dead zone, for the first time since mid-June.
Just 26 percent of Americans call it a good time to buy things, but that's up 4 points from last week, to a point from its 2009 high. At the same time just 9 percent say the national economy's in good shape overall – it's been in single digits all but two weeks this year – and fewer than half, 44 percent, rate their own finances positively.
The CCI's slight gain follows a better showing in the housing market last month; new home sales were reported today to have risen more quickly in June than in any month since 2000. But that's an increase from a low level; prices are down 17 percent from a year ago; and on another front, June unemployment hit 9.5 percent.
INDEX – Positive ratings of personal finances and the economy overall are 5 points from their all-time lows, reached in late June and early February, respectively. On the buying climate, positive ratings are 8 points from their record low in October.
At 44 percent positive, ratings of personal finances are well below the long-term average, 57 percent, in weekly polls since late 1985. Positive ratings of the buying climate are 11 points below average; of the national economy, a vast 29 points below.
TREND – The CCI has broken out of a five-week stretch at -50 or lower; it hit -53 on June 21, a point shy of the record low in January. It's averaged -49 this year, a dismal level; its long-term average is -12, its record high, +38.
Indeed the index is running below its worst annual average on record, -44 in 1992. It's been below -40 for a record 66 weeks straight and hasn't been positive since March 2007.
GROUPS – The index is higher as usual among better-off Americans, but negative across the board for the 22nd week straight, and all but two weeks this year.
It's -22 among those with the highest incomes but -57 among those with the lowest (matching the best since December), -39 among those who've attended college vs. -63 among high school dropouts, -40 among men while -54 among women, -44 among homeowners compared with -55 among renters, and -47 among whites vs. -48 among blacks. The last is far different from the usual 28-point racial gap.
Partisan differences remain, with the CCI at -36 among Republicans, compared with -51 among independents and -52 among Democrats. But the Republican-Democratic gap has been narrower than usual this year, averaging 21 points compared with 41 points last year and 32 points long-term.
In the past three weeks the index has improved most sharply in the Midwest and West, among Democrats and among people who rent rather than own their homes.
Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News CCI:
NATIONAL ECONOMY – Nine percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was 10 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 4 percent Feb. 8, 2009.
PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-four percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 43 percent last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 39 percent June 28 and 21.