Consumer confidence index slips amid worries about economy's momentum

WASHINGTON -- Consumer confidence slipped this month amid concerns about whether the recent upturn in momentum can be sustained, according to data released Friday.

The consumer sentiment index from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters dropped to 81.2, from 82.5 the previous month. The reading was in line with economists' projections.

The January figure was well above the 73.8 level recorded for the same month a year ago, and confidence was slightly improved from the preliminary January number.


Although consumers gave their recent financial progress the best rating in six months, they were not as optimistic about the direction of the economy.

"Despite the recent economic gains, consumers' outlook for their finances as well as the national economy over the longer term have remained more resistant to improvement than in past recoveries," said Richard Curtin, chief economist for the monthly Survey of Consumers.

"Optimism about long-term job and income prospects are essential for maintaining high levels of economic motivation," he said. "Too few consumers have regained that optimism."

Consumer confidence could take an additional hit in the coming months.

The unusually cold weather in much of the country will cause home heating bills to rise, a strain for lower-income families, Curtin warned, and the recent downturn in the stock market and slower gains in home values will affect higher-earners.

The Michigan/Reuters index was somewhat at odds with that of the Conference Board, the other leading barometer of consumer confidence. It increased in January for the second straight month.

However, both have shown improvement since the partial federal government shutdown in October, which caused consumer confidence to tumble.