Consumer comfort in U.S. hovers near strongest since March 2008

Job Gains

Employment gains may be helping boost consumers’ perceptions that the economy is improving. Payrolls increased by 146,000 workers in November, the most since August. Employment rose at a similar pace this month, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey before next week’s figures from the Labor Department.

Sentiment among part-time workers improved in the Bloomberg survey to a five-month high, today’s report showed.

Housing remains a bright spot in the economic recovery. Property values increased more than forecast in October, according to a report released yesterday by the S&P/Case-Shiller group. The index of home prices in 20 cities rose 4.3 percent from October 2011, the biggest 12-month advance since May 2010.

Cheaper gas prices are easing stress for household balance sheets. The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline at the pump fell to a 12-month low of $3.22 on Dec. 19, according to AAA, the nation’s biggest motoring organization.

Holiday Shopping

The pickup in confidence may not be translating to better results at retailers. Purchases rose 0.7 percent from Oct. 28 through Dec. 24 compared to 2 percent in the same period last year, according to a Dec. 25 report from MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, which tracks total U.S. sales at stores and online via all payment forms.

“We’ve had some ups and downs in terms of the general economy,” Chuck Knight, senior vice president and corporate controller at Wayne, New Jersey-based Toys R Us Inc., said on a Dec. 18 earnings call.

Today’s report contrasts with other measures of confidence. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index decreased to a five-month low of 72.9 from 82.7 in November, according to data released Dec. 21.

Telephone Survey

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, compiled by Langer Research Associates in New York, conducts telephone surveys with a random sample of 1,000 consumers 18 and older. Each week, 250 respondents are asked for their views on the economy, personal finances and buying climate; the percentage of negative responses is subtracted from the share of positive views and divided by three. The most recent reading is based on the average of responses over the previous four weeks.

The comfort index can range from 100, indicating every participant in the survey had a positive response to all three components, to minus 100, signaling all views were negative. The margin of error for the headline reading is 3 percentage points.

Bloomberg News

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