Consumers’ confidence cools as U.S. jobless claims rise

Fed’s Bernanke

Recent figures show consumer spending, business investment and employment have perked up, developments cited by Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke during a news conference following the central bank’s March 19-20 policy meeting.

“The data since our January meeting have been generally consistent with our expectation that the fourth-quarter pause in the recovery would prove temporary and that moderate economic growth would resume,” Bernanke said.

Still, policy makers remain “concerned that restrictive fiscal policies may slow economic growth and job creation in coming months,” he said.

Macy’s Inc., the second-largest U.S. department-store chain, is among companies that project consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of the economy, will hold up.

“We think the customer is OK, not particularly strong, not particularly weak, and we look at the momentum we have coming in to the year and we feel quite confident,” Karen Hoguet, chief financial officer at Macy’s Inc., said at a March 14 conference.

“That doesn’t mean that we’re not cognizant of all that’s going on in Washington and what’s going on with the payroll tax and every other factor, but we feel as if the environment will be supportive of us achieving the guidance that we’ve laid out,” she said.

Federal Budget

The Bloomberg measure of consumer comfort showed Americans may be unsettled by congressional bickering over the federal budget and the possible damage to economy from a slowdown in the pace of government spending, Gary Langer, president of Langer Research Associates in New York, which compiles the index for Bloomberg, said in a statement.

The comfort index’s measure assessing Americans’ views on the current state of the economy fell to minus 61.1 from minus 59.5. The decline was the fourth straight, the longest such stretch since the four weeks ended Dec. 9.

Concerns about the job market may further restrain sentiment. The monthly average of jobless claims climbed from the lowest level in five years, today’s Labor Department report showed. The less-volatile figure increased to 343,000 last week from 340,750.

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