American consumers in 2013 most upbeat since before recession

Holiday Sales

Retail sales rose 3.5% during the holiday season, helped by deep discounts at malls and purchases of children’s apparel and jewelry, MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse said. Sales of holiday-related categories, such as clothing, electronics and luxury goods, rose 2.3% from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24 compared with a year earlier, the Purchase, New York-based research firm said Dec. 26. SpendingPulse tracks total U.S. sales at stores and online via all payment forms.

Consumers are also buying more cars. Auto sales advanced to a 16.3 million annualized rate in November, the highest since May 2007, according to data from Ward’s Automotive Group.

The comfort index, based on weekly polling since 1985, remains below its average of minus 16.4 in data going back to December 1985. For the final week of 2007, during the month the U.S. slipped into a recession, it measured minus 20, almost nine points higher than the end of 2013.

Optimism waned last week among homeowners, college graduates, Democrats and full-time workers.

Income Groups

Sentiment flagged in most income brackets, including those making less than $40,000 a year and more than $100,000 a year. Among highest-income households, the index fell to 14.4, the lowest since the week ended Dec. 1. The gauge of high-income earners has been positive since early February.

Respondents 65 and older also reported less confidence, with their measure falling to minus 30.5, the lowest since Nov. 3. Sentiment deteriorated among women to minus 37.4, the weakest reading in a month.

In contrast, men reported improvement at minus 19.7, the best showing since Sept. 22 and 5.5 points above their 2013 average of minus 25.2.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index conducts telephone surveys with a random sample of 1,000 consumers ages 18 and older. Each week, 250 respondents are asked for their views on the U.S. economy, personal finances and buying climate. The margin of error for the headline figure is 3 percentage points.

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.

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