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US consumer comfort slips to weakest in more than three months
[WASHINGTON] Consumer comfort inched lower last week, reaching the weakest point in more than three months as Americans' views of their personal finances deteriorated.
The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index eased to 42.6 during the period ended April 3 from 42.8 the prior week. The latest reading capped a quarter in which the gauge held within a 2 point range, marking one of the steadiest three-month periods since 1995.
A robust labor market with lingering pockets of weakness has resulted in mixed attitudes about household balance sheets and the economic outlook. While employers added 215,000 workers to payrolls in March after 245,000 a month earlier, the number of Americans working part-time for economic reasons rose to the highest since August, Labor Department figures showed last week.
"These latest results follow a generally positive jobs report," Gary Langer, president of New York-based Langer Research Associates LLC, which compiles the data for Bloomberg, said in a statement. "But jobs growth to some extent has been concentrated in low-paying retail and restaurant jobs, underemployment is up and wage growth remains a persistent consumer woe."
The weekly measure of households' views of their personal finances fell to a four-week low of 56.9 from 57.6. The index tracking current views of the economy held at 32.6 while the buying-climate gauge stayed at 38.3 for a third week. Both readings are the weakest since mid-December.
The report showed a further widening in the partisan gap, with sentiment among Republicans dropping to a four-month low amid a fractious primary that includes the possibility of a brokered presidential nomination convention in July. The difference in confidence last week between Republicans and Democrats was 13.5 points, the biggest in two years and the second-largest in records back to 1990.
Confidence also differed on education levels as well, according to the report. Sentiment among high school graduates was the weakest since mid-December while college graduates were the most upbeat in almost a year.
By region, sentiment soured the most last week in the Midwest, reaching a five-month low. It also fell in the West, and climbed in the Northeast and South.
Confidence among part-time workers was the weakest since Feb. 21, while the unemployed were the least pessimistic in three weeks, according to the comfort data.