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Consumer confidence in US falls for a record ninth straight week

[WASHINGTON] Consumer confidence dropped for a record ninth straight week as Americans' views of the buying climate deteriorated to a seven-month low.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index decreased to 40.1 in the period ended June 7, the weakest since November, from 40.5 the prior week. The gauge has fallen about 8 points since reaching an almost eight-year high in mid-April.

Waning sentiment over the past two months coincides with a pickup in the price of a gallon of gasoline since the end of March. While attitudes about spending soured for the eighth week in nine, wage gains and higher stock prices helped households feel better about their finances, the report showed.

"This has been more like an unusually long, slow leak," Gary Langer, president of Langer Research Associates LLC in New York, which produces the data for Bloomberg, said in a statement. "Sharply rising gas prices customarily correlate with declining consumer confidence."

The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline was $2.75 as of June 9, up about 35 cents since the end of March, according to auto group AAA.

The string of declines from April's high marks the longest run since the survey began in 1985. Nonetheless, the measure is still higher than last year's average of 36.7 that was the best since 2007.

Two of three components in the weekly index dropped in the latest report. The comfort index's buying climate gauge, which measures whether now is a good time to purchase goods and services, fell to 33.5, also the lowest since November, from 34.2 in the prior period.

A measure of consumers' views on the state of the national economy decreased to 32.1, the weakest since December, from 32.9. The gauge of personal finances rose to 54.7 from a three- month low of 54.4 in the prior period.

Sentiment among men declined for the first time in five weeks, while among women it fell for a fifth week.

Confidence among homeowners was particularly depressed, with that measure falling to a more than seven-month low of 41.6 from 41.8 in the previous period. That helped narrow the gap between owners and renters to 3.4 points, compared with a historical average of 10.3 points, Langer said.

Five of seven income groups showed a decrease in sentiment. Those making at least US$25,000 but less than US$40,000 a year were the least upbeat since October. While confidence climbed among those making more than US$100,000, the index was the second-lowest since September.

Two of four US regions showed a drop, with sentiment in the Northeast falling to its lowest since October. The Midwest region's gauge also decreased, while confidence rose in the South and the West.

The data are the latest to indicate that a plunge in energy costs in the second half of last year produced a US$150 billion windfall for US consumers with little to show for it.

Persistent job gains might keep Americans' confidence from an even bigger retreat. Employers added 280,000 jobs in May, the most in five months, after a 221,000 April advance.

Wage growth also has begun to show signs of life. Average pay for all civilian workers climbed 4.2 per cent in the first quarter from the same period in 2014, Labor Department figures showed Wednesday. That compares with a 4 per cent year-over-year gain in the fourth quarter and is the strongest since July- September 2006.

Average hourly earnings reported with the Labor Department's monthly jobs figures accelerated in May to show a 2.3 per cent year-over-year gain, the fastest since August 2013.

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.