Setback in consumer sentiments

July 31, 2014 05:49 AM

Confidence among U.S. consumers retreated last week to an almost two-month low as limited wage growth chipped away at perceptions about personal finances.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell to 36.3 in the period ended July 27, the lowest June 8, from 37.6 the week before. A gauge of households’ financial well-being dropped by the most since mid-May after reaching an 11-week high.

Consumers were also less enthusiastic about the buying climate, a reflection of stagnant paychecks. Even with the setback in sentiment, the weekly measure is holding close to its high of the year as a pickup in employment opportunities persists and stocks trade near a record.

Employment, usually a strong correlate of consumer sentiment, is better, and stocks, another strong correlate, have been on a tear,” Gary Langer, president of Langer Research Associates LLC in New York, which produces the data for Bloomberg, said in a statement. “But slow wage growth is a persistent concern.”

Another report from the Labor Department today showed fewer Americans filed applications for jobless benefits over the past month than at any time in more than eight years. The four-week average of jobless claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, dropped to 297,250, the lowest since April 2006.

Claims in the period ended July 26 climbed to 302,000 from a revised 279,000 the prior week that was the lowest since 2000.

Stocks fell as earnings at companies from Whole Foods Market Inc. to Kraft Foods Group Inc. disappointed investors and Argentina missed a debt payment. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropped 0.8% to 1,954.19 at 9:35 a.m. in New York.

Buying Climate

The gauge of the buying climate in today’s report decreased to 31.9 from 33.3 the week before. Even with the drop, the measure is higher than the average for the year. The index for the state of the economy was little changed at 26.4 from 26.6 the week prior.

The labor market is making progress. Payroll gains have averaged 231,000 a month this year. If the pace is sustained for the rest of 2014, it would mark the best performance since 1999.

Employers added 231,000 jobs in July and the jobless rate held at an almost six-year low of 6.1%, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg before tomorrow’s Labor Department report.

At the same time, wages are struggling to keep pace with inflation. Average hourly earnings adjusted for changes in prices fell 0.1% in June from the same month last year, the weakest since October 2012, figures from the Labor Department showed last week.

Federal Reserve

Federal Reserve policy makers yesterday said that while the labor market is making progress, slack remains. The Fed’s Open Market Committee continued to trim asset purchases, reducing monthly bond buying to $25 billion from $35 billion and staying on pace to end the purchase program in October.

“Labor market conditions improved, with the unemployment rate declining further,” the FOMC said in a statement following a two-day policy meeting. “However, a range of labor market indicators suggest that there remains significant underutilization of labor resources.”

Stronger wage gains would probably help bolster sales at companies such as Tractor Supply Co. Demand at the lawn and garden product merchant’s stores open at least a year rose 1.9% in the second quarter from a year earlier, compared with a 7.2% increase in the 12 months ended in the second quarter 2013.

“There’s nothing significant that we can see that’s changed with our customer; they’re still being conservative, they’re still buying very close to need,” Greg Sandfort, the company’s chief executive officer, said on a July 23 earnings call.

Homeowners’ Sentiment

Today’s comfort report showed a measure of sentiment among homeowners cooled to 40.9 from the prior week’s 41.2, which was the highest since December 2007. Renter confidence declined to a nine-week low.

Comfort among income groups was mixed, with increases among those earning between $25,000 and $50,000 and declines among earners at low- and top-end of the income scale. Those making less than $15,000 fell to 16.5, the lowest since February.

Part-time worker confidence fell for a third week after reaching a six-year high at the beginning of the month. Sentiment among full-time workers and the unemployed also eased.

Among political affiliations, Republican confidence fell to a three-month low, widening the partisan gap with Democrats to its largest in 15 weeks.

The Bloomberg Comfort Index has been presented on a scale of zero to 100 since May, rather than the previous minus 100 to 100, with the midpoint shifting to 50 from zero. The change is reflected in the gauge’s components. It doesn’t affect the measures’ relationship to each other or their correlation with other economic indicators.

Historical data have been revised and analysis of trends, values and other variables also have not been affected.

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