Consumer confidence in U.S. declines to lowest in four months

Confidence among U.S. consumers fell in September to a four-month low as Americans grew less upbeat about the outlook for employment.

The Conference Board’s index declined to 79.7 from a revised 81.8 a month earlier that was stronger than initially estimated, the New York-based private research group said today. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a decrease this month to 79.9.

Uneven employment growth and limited wage gains are keeping consumer purchases, which make up about 70% of the world’s largest economy, from accelerating. At the same time, a pickup in household wealth reflecting improved property values and higher stock prices may help ensure Americans won’t retrench.

“The quality as well as the pace of new jobs has not been improving,” Yelena Shulyatyeva, an economist in New York at BNP Paribas, said before the report. Mortgage rates may not be “high by historical standards, but a noticeable increase” is also weighing on sentiment, she said.

Estimates of consumer sentiment ranged from 76 to 83 in the Bloomberg survey of 78 economists after a previously reported August reading of 81.5. The Conference Board’s measure averaged 53.7 in the recession that ended in June 2009. The cutoff date for the survey was Sept. 13, around the time the Obama administration was considering a military strike on Syria.

Another report today showed home prices climbed in the 12 months to July by the most since February 2006.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values increased 12.4% from July 2012 after advancing 12.1% a month earlier. The year-over-year gain matched the median projection of 31 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

Expectations Fall

The Conference Board’s barometer of consumer expectations for the next six months fell to 84.1 after 89 a month earlier. A gauge of present conditions improved to 73.2 in September from 70.9 a month earlier.

The fewest respondents since March said they expected their incomes to rise. The share dropped to 15.4% in September from 17.5% a month earlier. The share of Americans who said jobs would become more plentiful in the next six months fell to 16.9% from 17.5%.

At the same time, the gap between those who said work opportunities are currently scarce, and those who said they’re easy to get, shrank to the lowest since September 2008.

Recent improvements in the labor market have been uneven. Employers created 169,000 jobs in August, and the prior two months’ gains were revised down, Labor Department figures showed this month. The unemployment rate dropped to 7.3%, a more than four-year low, in part because workers left the labor force.

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