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Consumer comfort in US slumps on views of buying climate

[WASHINGTON] Consumer confidence in the US fell for a seventh consecutive week and attitudes about whether it was a good time to spend slumped by the most since 2011.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index decreased to 40.9 in the period ended May 24, the lowest level since late November, from 42.4 the prior week. The decline in Americans' assessments of the buying climate was accompanied by the biggest drop in sentiment among women in more than seven years.

"A stellar Q4 last year has turned into a mixed 2015 for consumer sentiment, with highs in late January and early April followed by sharp corrections," Gary Langer, president of Langer Research Associates LLC in New York, which produces the data for Bloomberg, said in a statement.

"The latest drop has taken back about half of the CCI's late-September to mid-January gain." The series of declines from an almost eight-year high in April is the longest since May 2008, and puts the index below the 41.7 long-term average that dates back to December 1985. It's still above last year's 36.7 average, which was the best since 2007.

The measure of the buying climate dropped to 35.5 last week, the lowest since the end of November, from 38.1 in the prior period. The 2.6 point decrease was the biggest since December 2011.

Other components of the Consumer Comfort Index also declined. Sentiment about personal finances decreased to 54.9, the lowest since early March, from 56.3. The measure of views on the economy cooled to to 32.3, the weakest since the first week of December, from 32.8.

Thursday's report stands in contrast to the Conference Board's May index, which suggested that American households are growing more sanguine about the economy and planning to make major purchases. That confidence gauge advanced to 95.4 from an April reading of 94.3, the New York-based private research group said Tuesday.

Women's attitudes as measured by the Bloomberg index plunged for a second consecutive week. The 3.8 point decrease was the biggest since November 2007 and followed a 3.2 point drop the week before. Combined, it marked the largest two-week slump since records began in 1990. Sentiment among men increased.

Among income groups, those earning more than $100,000 saw optimism sag to 59 last week, an almost six-month low, from 61.4 in the prior period. Sentiment also fell to the lowest since November among homeowners, married adults and the unemployed.

Regionally, confidence in the US South was the lowest since mid-October, while Midwestern households were alone in reporting a pickup.

The Bloomberg Comfort Index, presented on a scale of zero to 100, is a four-week rolling average and based on a national sample of 1,000 adults. The report's gauges have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 points.