U.S. consumers grew slightly more pessimistic about economic conditions in March as their outlook on job prospects dimmed, a closely watched survey showed March 27.
The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index dipped in March to 70.2, in line with analyst expectations, after a surge in February had brought it to 71.6.
The slight pullback was due entirely to consumers' feelings about conditions six months in the future, while their assessment of current conditions continued to improve, the research firm said in a statement.
Lynn Franco, head of consumer research at the Conference Board, noted that people's confidence about current conditions was at its highest level in three and a half years -- since the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy sent global financial markets into a tailspin.
That reading was "suggesting that despite this month's dip in confidence, consumers feel the economy is not losing momentum," Franco said in the statement.
However, consumers were less optimistic about the short-term outlook than they were in February, both for business conditions and job prospects.
Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors said the survey gave a mixed picture on the attitudes of the U.S. consumer, whose spending drives the economy and is crucial to support a fragile recovery.
"Even as they see the economy beginning to pick up speed, consumers are still worried that the momentum may not be maintained," Naroff said. "The decidedly schizophrenic consumer is trying to balance the good news about the labor market and the economy in general with the really bad news at the (gasoline) pump."
A separate confidence survey released March 27 by pollster giant Gallup showed economic confidence hit its highest weekly level since January 2008.
Gallup's reading improved to -17 in the week ending March 25, from -21 the prior week.
"Americans' confidence in the economy is at its best level in four years, despite high gas (gasoline) prices," it said.
"This suggests that the moderately improving economy and, in particular, the improving job situation are offsetting, at least in part, the drag of gas prices on consumer perceptions of the economy."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012