NEW YORK — With Christmas only a month away, American consumers became more pessimistic about the economy in November, sending a widely watched barometer of confidence to the lowest level in two years amid worries about rising fuel costs and a housing market slump.
The New York-based Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index dropped to 87.3, marking a four-month slide and continuing down almost 8 points from the revised 95.2 in October.
It was the lowest reading since 85.2 in October 2005, when gas and oil prices soared after hurricanes flooded New Orleans and shut down a large chunk of the nation’s oil refineries. It also marked the sharpest drop since September 2005, when the index plummeted 18 points from the previous month. Analysts had expected a reading of 91.5 in November.
“Consumers’ apprehension about the short-term outlook is being fueled by volatility in financial markets, rising prices at the pump and the likelihood of larger home heating bills this winter,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, in a statement.
The Present Situation Index, which measures how shoppers feel now about the economy, fell to 115.4 from 118.0 in October. The Expectations Index, which measures shoppers’ outlook over the next six months, declined to 68.7 from 80.0.
“It doesn’t mean that shoppers are not going to spend. It implies they are going to be cautious,” this holiday season, said Joel L. Naroff, president and chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors Inc. “To me, it will be a mediocre season, not a terrible one, but not a good one, either.”
Wall Street paid little attention to the consumer confidence report, rebounding modestly Tuesday after the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority said it will invest $7.5 billion in Citigroup Inc. — a vote of confidence for the nation’s largest bank, which has struggled with heavy losses amid the ongoing mortgage crisis.
According to the International Council of Shopping Centers-UBS index, same-store sales rose 2.5 percent for the week ended Saturday, compared with the year-ago period. Same-store sales are sales at stores opened at least a year and are considered a key indicator of a retailer’s health. According to Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at ICSC, “customer traffic was reasonably healthy but consumers were out looking for bargains.”
The nation’s retailer will provide a more complete picture of how the Thanksgiving weekend fared when they report same-store sales for November on Dec. 6.
The big worry is that shoppers will take their time returning to the stores this holiday season amid worries that higher gas, an escalating credit crisis and a slumping housing market could push the economy into a recession.
With consumer spending accounting for two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, any further dropoff of consumer spending increases the risks of a recession.
A report, released Tuesday, on home prices offered another sign that the housing slump is far from over. According to S&P/Case-Shiller index, U.S. home prices fell 4.5 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, the sharpest drop since Standard &Poor’s began its nationwide housing index in 1987. The index also showed that prices declined 1.7 percent from the previous three-month period, the largest quarter-to-quarter decrease in the index’s history.