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Consumer confidence fell in June for fourth month in row

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NEW YORK — Americans can’t seem to shake their uneasy feeling.

Consumer confidence fell in June for the fourth consecutive month as worries about jobs and the overall economy outweighed relief at the gas pump and an improvement in the housing market, according to a private research group.

The decline was modest; the Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index fell from 64.4 in May to 62 in June. But the four-month slide from 71.6 in February is significant and corresponds with a slowdown in hiring by U.S. companies over that period.

Hiring averaged 96,000 during the combined period of March, April and May. That marked a slowdown from the average of 252,000 a month in the prior three months.

A reading of 90 indicates a healthy economy. The index hit an all-time low of 25.3 in February 2009.

“We’re trying to break free from this orbit, and we haven’t been able to,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Eco­nomics. “Job market concerns will always trump swings in energy prices.”

Worries about job and income growth weighed the heaviest in the index, which was based on a survey conducted from June 1-14 of about 500 randomly selected people.

The margin of error for the index is 5.5 points.

Those stating jobs are “hard to get” increased slightly to 41.5 percent from 40.9 percent, while those expecting more jobs in the months ahead declined to 14.1 percent from 15.4 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes declined to 14.8 percent from 15.7 percent.

The strong hiring during the winter helped lift the Consumer Confidence Index from 40.9 in October to the highest reading it had been in a year during February. But in the following months that hiring has slipped, so has consumer confidence.

Meanwhile, a measure of the number of people applying for unemployment benefits over the past month has reached a six-month high, the government said last week. That suggests June could be another lackluster month for hiring. The government releases June data on July 6.

Americans also are grappling with declines in their retirement funds. After rallying earlier in the year, the stock market has lost its steam since the beginning of May amid concerns about the economy both here and abroad. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen nearly 6 percent since early May.

On the news of declining consumer confidence, major stock indexes drifted between slight gains and losses on Tuesday, following steep losses the day before.

Still, Americans have some reasons to be optimistic. A widely watched home price index, released Tuesday, showed that home prices rose in nearly all major U.S. cities in April. That’s the second consecutive month that prices in The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index have increased in a majority of U.S. cities.

Additionally, gasoline prices have fallen sharply from a peak of $3.94 in early April to a national average of $3.40 per gallon Tuesday, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service. And experts say gas could fall another 11 cents by July 4.

Despite those two positives, Americans are cautious about spending. Several companies, from restaurants to home goods sellers, have said recently that customers are pulling back on spending unless they are lured into stores by big discounts.

Bed Bath and Beyond last week forecast lower earnings for its current fiscal quarter that started in late May and said it needed to use more coupons to get people to spend. Furniture chain Ethan Allen Inc. said customer traffic is slowing and shoppers are taking more time to make purchasing decisions.

And Darden Restaurants Inc., which operates Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants, expects earnings that are short of Wall Street expectations and said customers were turned off by a $1 increase for Red Lobster’s dish “Festival of Shrimp.”

Given growing uncertainty about the economy, Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at The International Council of Shopping Centers trade group, on Tuesday trimmed his sales forecast for June by a 0.5 percentage point.

He now expects revenue at stores opened at least a year to be up 3 percent to 3.5 percent. That follows a 4 percent rise in May.

GAS PRICES AT 5-MONTH LOW

The price of gasoline has dropped to a five-month low, with the national average falling to about $3.40 per gallon Tuesday.

South Carolina, at $2.987, has the distinction of being the first state with an average below $3 since February 2011. Even in states that impose high gas taxes, such as New York and California, pump prices are averaging less than $4.

Americans are now spending roughly $200 million per day less on gas than in early April, when gas peaked at $3.94 per gallon. Analysts expect further declines.

– Associated Press


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