Consumer confidence up slightly

From the Associated Press

Amid the gloom of higher gasoline and food prices and a slumping housing market, Americans appear to be looking for a bit of hope.

Their outlook has brightened a bit, even though they remain more gloomy about the economy than they have been in 16 years, a private research group said Tuesday.

The New York-based Conference Board said its consumer confidence index stands at 51.9 for July -- about half of what it was a year ago -- but the reading was slightly higher than the revised 51.0 in June and better than the reading of 50 predicted by economists surveyed by Thomson/IFR. The slight improvement, which economists say was helped by a little relief in oil prices in recent weeks, also reverses a six-month slide since February.

The expectations index, which measures shoppers’ outlook over the next six months, increased a bit to 43.0 from 41.4. The present situation index, which measures their current assessment of the economy, was virtually flat at 65.3, compared with 65.4 in June.


“Consumers’ assessment of current conditions was little changed, suggesting there has been no significant improvement, nor significant deterioration, in business or labor market conditions,” said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

She added, however, that while consumers remain grim about short-term prospects, the modest improvement in their outlook provides some glimmer of hope. The slight improvement in the outlook “bears careful watching over the next few months,” she said.

The reading comes as the nation’s retailers are entering the crucial back-to-school season, the most important period behind the holiday season.