Consumer comfort in US stays within narrow range for 11th week

[WASHINGTON] Consumer confidence remained stable in the first week of March, with Americans growing a tad more upbeat about the economy even as their views of buying conditions eased.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index stood at 43.8 in the the period ended March 6, little changed from 43.6 the prior week and the second-lowest level this year. The measure has stayed within a 1 point range for the last 11 weeks, the longest such stretch since June 2000.

Steady hiring and cheap gasoline prices are buoying attitudes about the economy. The workforce is growing at the fastest pace in more than a decade, the share of the population with a job is the highest since 2009, and the 4.9 percent unemployment rate last month matched an eight-year low. At the same time, sluggish wage growth is probably limiting optimism.

"The stall may reflect the neither-here-nor-there nature of economic conditions," Gary Langer, president of the New York- based Langer Research Associates LLC, which produces the data for Bloomberg, said in a statement. Still, "real wage stagnation, turmoil in the markets and signs of inflation may be holding back gains in consumer attitudes."

The index tracking Americans' views on the state of the economy crept up to a five-week high of 35.9 from 35. A gauge of consumers' views on personal finances was little changed at 55.9 versus 56, and the buying-climate index eased to 39.4 last week from 39.9.

The report also showed confidence dropped a seven-week low among full-time workers, while those working part-time were most upbeat in a month.

Sentiment ticked up among those with incomes of less than US$50,000 a year, and declined for those earning more. Confidence of Americans making US$25,000 to US$40,000 was the highest since April. Sentiment slipped last week in three of the four regions. In the West, it was the strongest since May.


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