Consumer confidence is seeing a bright streak to end the summer, going four weeks without falling back.
The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -45 on its scale of -100 to +100, matching last week's mark as the best since May. Four weeks without any retreat is the longest such stretch since spring, when the CCI reached its 2009 high, -42 on May 10.
Confidence nonetheless cannot be described as anything but dismal; the index lingers only 9 points from its record low, -54 in January, and is 33 points from its 23-year average, -12.
There have been trickles of better economic news lately: The National Association of Realtors reported pending home sales at their highest level since June 2007, the manufacturing industry grew in August for the first time in 19 months and the government's Cash for Clunkers program injected new life into the auto industry and helped spur consumer spending.
INDEX – The CCI is based on Americans' ratings of the national economy, their personal finances and the buying climate. Ratings of the economy are the weakest – only 8 percent positive, in single digits for 44 weeks of the past 47 weeks and 30 points below its long-term average in weekly polls since December 1985.
Twenty-seven percent say it's a good time to buy things, matching the best for the year but still 10 points below the long-term average and below 30 percent for a record 77 weeks.
And 48 percent rate their personal finances positively – 9 points better than the record low in late June, but still 9 points below the long-term average. It's been below a majority for 16 weeks straight and all but two weeks this year.
TREND – Even as its trudged in August to its best since the spring, the index continues in historically low territory. It's been below -40 for a record 71 weeks and hasn't seen positive territory since March 2007. The index is light years from its best yearlong average, +29 in 2000, and all-time best, +38 in January 2000.
GROUPS – The CCI is higher as usual among better-off Americans, but negative across the board for the 27th week straight and all but two weeks this year.
It's -26 among those with the highest incomes while -78 among those with the lowest, -33 among those who've attended college (matching the best since May) vs. -74 among high school dropouts (3 points from the low), -43 among men while -46 among women (the best since last September), -38 among homeowners (also the best since last September) compared with -58 among renters, and -44 among whites vs. -53 among blacks.
There are partisan differences as well, with the CCI at -34 among Republicans, -56 among Democrats and -45 among independents. This week's 22-point Republican-Democratic gap about matches the average difference for the year (20 points) but is narrower than last year (41 points) and long-term (32 points).
Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News CCI:
NATIONAL ECONOMY – Eight percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good, the same as last week. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 4 percent Feb. 8, 2009.
PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-eight percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 49 percent last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 39 percent June 28 and 21, 2009.
BUYING CLIMATE – Twenty-seven percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 25 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 18 percent, last reached Oct. 19, 2008.
METHODOLOGY – Interviews for the ABC News Consumer Comfort Index are reported in a four-week rolling average. This week's results are based on telephone interviews among a random national sample of 1,000 adults in the four weeks ending Aug. 30, 2009. The results have a 3-point error margin. Field work by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.
The index is derived by subtracting the negative response to each index question from the positive response to that question. The three resulting numbers are added and divided by three. The index can range from +100 (everyone positive on all three measures) to -100 (all negative on all three measures). The survey began in December 1985.
ERRATA – A software problem at ICR created errors in crosstabulated results by income group and marital status in data Aug. 30 to Oct. 18. The CCI overall and in other crosstabulations was not affected. This report has been updated with corrected results by income group and marital status.