US Consumer Confidence Little Changed in March

US Consumer Confidence Little Changed in March

Brighter Perceptions of Today’s Economic Conditions Eclipsed by Rising Anxiety about the Future

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index® was 104.7 (1985=100) in March, essentially unchanged from a downwardly revised 104.8 in February.

The Present Situation Index—based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions—increased to 151.0 (1985=100) in March from 147.6 in February. Meanwhile, the Expectations Index—based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions—fell to 73.8 (1985=100), down from 76.3 last month. An Expectations Index reading below 80 often signals a forthcoming recession.

“Consumers’ assessment of the present situation improved in March, but they also became more pessimistic about the future,” said Dana M. Peterson, Chief Economist at The Conference Board. “Confidence rose among consumers aged 55 and over but deteriorated for those under 55. Separately, consumers in the $50,000-$99,999 income group reported lower confidence in March, while confidence improved slightly in all other income groups. However, over the last six months, confidence has been moving sideways with no real trend to the upside or downside either by income or age group.”

Peterson added: “Consumers remained concerned with elevated price levels, which predominated write-in responses. March’s write-in responses showed an uptick in concerns about food and gas prices, but in general complaints about gas prices have been trending downward. Indeed, average 12-month inflation expectations came in at 5.3 percent—barely changed from February’s four-year low of 5.2 percent. Recession fears continued to trend downward both in write-in responses and as measured by consumers’ Perceived Likelihood of a US Recession over the Next 12 Months. Meanwhile, consumers expressed more concern about the US political environment compared to prior months.”

Assessments of the present situation improved in March, primarily driven by more positive views of the current employment situation. Notably, the employment differential—those saying jobs are plentiful minus those saying jobs are hard to get—rose in March and has been trending higher this year.

However, expectations for the next six months slipped to the lowest level since October 2023. Consumers’ outlook for future business conditionslabor market conditions, and income expectations alldeteriorated in March. They were also a bit less optimistic about their family’s financial situation, both currently and over the next six months (measures not included in calculating the Expectations Index).

Sentiment about stock prices over the year ahead continued to strengthen. The share of consumers expecting an increase in interest rates over the year ahead rose above 50 percent for the first time since November 2023. On a six-month basis, buying plans for interest-rate sensitive items like autos, homes, and big-ticket appliances dipped again. However, based on a supplemental question, planned spending for services in 2024 increased relative to the same time last year. Among services, consumers anticipate spending more on heath care, motor vehicle services, and lodging for personal travel, but less on entertainment.

Present Situation

Consumers’ assessment of current business conditions fell slightly in March.

  • 19.5% of consumers said business conditions were “good,” down from 20.4% in February.
  • 17.2% said business conditions were “bad,” down from 17.7%.

Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market was more positive in March.

  • 43.1% of consumers said jobs were “plentiful,” up from 42.8% in February.
  • 10.9% of consumers said jobs were “hard to get,” down from 12.7%.

Expectations Six Months Hence       

Consumers were more pessimistic overall about the short-term business conditions outlook in March.

  • 14.3% of consumers expect business conditions to improve, up from 14.0% in February.
  • 17.6% expect business conditions to worsen, up from 16.9%.

Consumers’ assessment of the short-term labor market outlook was more pessimistic in March.

  • 13.9% of consumers expect more jobs to be available, down from 14.1% in February.
  • 18.2% anticipate fewer jobs, up from 17.5%.

Consumers’ assessment of their short-term income prospects was, on balance, also more pessimistic in March.

  • 16.5% of consumers expect their incomes to increase, up slightly from 16.3% in February.
  • However, 13.8% expect their incomes to decrease, up from 11.9%.

Assessment of Family Finances and Recession Risk

  • Consumers’ assessment of their Family’s Current Financial Situation was less positive in March.

  • Consumers were a bit less optimistic about their Family’s Financial Situation going forward.

  • Consumers’ Perceived Likelihood of a US Recession over the Next 12 Months declined in March—continuing its downward trajectory after a brief uptick last month.