Consumer confidence in U.S. increases to four-year high

Home Sales

Consumers are benefiting as record-low mortgage rates drive a recovery in housing. Sales of previously owned homes unexpectedly climbed in October, and the median price rose 11.1 percent from a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Estimates for consumer confidence ranged from 65 to 79.1 in the Bloomberg survey of 75 economists. The measure averaged 53.7 during the recession that ended in June 2009.

The Conference Board’s measure of present conditions was little changed at 56.6 this month from 56.7 in October. The gauge of expectations for the next six months rose to 85.1 from 84.

The share of consumers who said jobs are currently plentiful increased to 11.2 percent, the most since September 2008, from 10.4 percent. Those who said jobs are hard to get were little changed at 38.8 percent.

The percent of respondents expecting more jobs to become available in the next six months increased to 20.3, the highest since February 2011, from 19.7 the previous month.

Home-Buying Plans

The share planning to buy a house within the next six months jumped to 6.9 percent, the most in data going back to 1964. The previous all-time high was 5.5 percent.

Among other measures, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index climbed in November to a five- year high, while the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index last week hovered near the strongest point in seven months.

Thanksgiving Day openings and midnight deals at chains from Target Corp. to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. drew shoppers. Spending in stores and online rose 13 percent to $59.1 billion in the four days starting Nov. 22, the National Retail Federation reported. A year ago, sales advanced 16 percent over the holiday weekend.

Gap Inc., the biggest U.S. specialty-apparel retailer, saw busy stores on Black Friday as customers responded to offers of $19 sweaters and $5 kids and baby graphic Ts from midnight to noon.

Encouraging Signs

“We’re encouraged by what we’re seeing out there,” Mark Breitbard, president of Gap’s North America division for its namesake brand, said in a telephone interview on Nov. 23.

Fuel prices close to the lowest level since mid-July are offering respite to budget-conscious households. The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline at the pump has fallen 10 percent in the past two months to reach $3.42 on Nov. 26, according to AAA, the nation’s biggest motoring organization.

Business sentiment has been stagnating as the year-end deadline for automatic fiscal tightening approaches. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week that an agreement on ways to reduce long-term federal budget deficits could remove an impediment to growth, while failure to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff would pose a “substantial threat” to the recovery.

Bloomberg News

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