Consumers less upbeat heading into the holidays

A monthly measure of consumer confidence has retreated to its lowest level in seven months, a discouraging trend for retailers at the beginning of the holiday shopping season.

The Conference Board reported that its Consumer Confidence Index dropped two points to 70.4 in November. With declines in each of the last three months, the index has fallen to its lowest level since it stood at 68.1 in April.

Economists closely follow the index because consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of all economic activity in the country.

The results of the latest survey of U.S. households upon which the November index was based were mixed, but reflected less upbeat expectations for improving labor conditions and earnings.

“All in all, with such uncertainty prevailing, this could be a challenging holiday season for retailers,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators for the Conference Board, a business research and membership association.

Consumer assessments of current business and labor conditions pulled down the present situation component of the index six-tenths of a point to 72.

The share of consumers responding to the survey who called business conditions “good” edged up four-tenths of a point to 19.9 percent. But the proportion of those who described conditions as “bad” climbed more than two points to 25.2 percent.

The share of consumers who said jobs are “plentiful” ticked up two-tenths of a point to 11.8 percent. The proportion of those who said jobs are “hard to get” fell nearly a point to 34 percent.

Consumers were even less upbeat in their short-term outlooks, pulling down the expectations component of the index nearly three points to 69.3.

The proportion of consumers who expect business conditions to improve over the next six months rose six-tenths of a point to 16.6 percent.

And the share of those who anticipate worsening conditions fell seven-tenths to 16.8 percent.

But the proportion of consumers who expect more jobs to become available dropped more than three points to 12.7 percent. The share of those who anticipate fewer jobs fell almost a point to 21.7 percent.

Meanwhile, 14.9 percent of consumers expect their incomes to increase, down eight-tenths of a point. Another 15.9 percent of consumers expect their incomes to decrease, up four-tenths.