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Consumer comfort in US falls as views on economy backtrack

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Consumer confidence fell last week even as Americans became a bit more sanguine about the economy's prospects.

[WASHINGTON] Consumer confidence fell last week even as Americans became a bit more sanguine about the economy's prospects.

The weekly Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index decreased to 42.9 in the period ended April 17 from 43.6. While attitudes about the current economy led the decline, households' outlook for the future improved in April to a three-month high.

The figures show sentiment about the US economy is in a state of flux, further evidenced by consumers' reticence to spend despite months of solid job gains and limited layoffs. After a weak first quarter, an acceleration in economic growth that's accompanied by faster pay gains will be needed to help convince households that the recovery remains on track.

"A continued mixed bag of economic signals lends context to consumer uncertainty," Gary Langer, president of Langer Research Associates LLC, which produces the comfort data for Bloomberg, said in a statement. "Lack of wage growth continues even as job numbers remain strong. Oil and gas prices have increased in the last month, but weaknesses across other sectors have resulted in minimal inflation overall."

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The measure tracking the current state of the economy fell to 33.4 from 35.6, nearly erasing a 3-point jump the week before. Meanwhile, the monthly index tracking the economic outlook climbed to 44.5, the highest since January, from 42.

The survey's weekly buying climate index, which measures whether it's a good time to purchase goods and services, rose to 39.6, the highest since late February, from 38.7. The personal finances index declined for a fourth straight week, dropping by 1 point to 55.6.

Sentiment fell across almost every income group, with the biggest loss among people earning US$100,000 or more. Households making US$75,000 to US$99,999 were the only cohort to see an improvement in confidence, which climbed to the highest level since mid-February.

Among other details, the comfort measure fell in three of four regions, with only the Midwest posting a slight improvement. The drop in confidence was spread across people of all employment statuses. And looking at the political spectrum, while sentiment fell for Democrats and climbed for Republicans, the difference remained in double digitsĀ in favor of Democrats for the sixth consecutive week.