Consumer confidence shaken by coronavirus fears

A monthly measure of consumer confidence has dropped on less upbeat expectations for business and labor conditions in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

The intensity of the outbreak and volatility in financial markets has made business and labor prospects less certain, said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators for the Conference Board. “March’s decline in confidence is more in line with a severe contraction — rather than a temporary shock — and further declines are sure to follow.”

The business research and membership group reported its Consumer Confidence Index fell 12.6 points to 120.

The index is based on the results of monthly household surveys. Economists monitor the index because consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity.

Less upbeat assessments of current business and labor conditions pulled down the present situation component of the index 1.6 points to 167.7.

The proportion of consumers who responded to the survey upon which the latest index was based who described business conditions as “good” held steady at 39.6 percent. But the share of those who said conditions were “bad” increased six-tenths of a point to 11.4 percent.

The proportion of those who said jobs are “plentiful”  fell 1.6 points to 44.9 percent. The share of those who said jobs are “hard to get” remained unchanged at 13.9 percent.

The short-term outlook was even less optimistic, pushing down the expectations component of the index 19.9 points to 88.2.

The share of consumers who said they expect business conditions to improve over the next six months fell 2.4 points to 18.2 percent. The proportion of those who said they anticipated worsening conditions more than doubled to 14.9 percent.

The share of consumers who said they expect more jobs to become available in coming months fell 1.1 points to 15.5 percent. The proportion of those who expect fewer jobs rose 5.1 points to 17.1. percent.

While 20.7 percent of consumers said they expect their incomes to increase, down two points, the share of those who anticipated decreasing incomes rose more — 2.7 points to 8.8 percent.