U.S. Consumer Confidence Slides In March

By Agence France-Presse U.S. consumer confidence, already at a near-10-year low, crumbled again in March, a survey by the Conference Board, a New York private research group, showed March 25. The closely watched consumer confidence index fell to 62.5 points in March from 64.8 points in February. The barometer -- based on a survey that ended on March 18, the eve of the latest war in the Gulf -- remains at the lowest level since October 1993. Even if the war were finished quickly, confidence among consumers -- whose spending accounts for two-thirds of U.S. economic activity -- might take time to rebound, analysts said. "While a quick and successful outcome in the Middle East conflict would certainly ease some of the uncertainties facing consumers and therefore boost confidence, it is the economic fundamentals that will determine whether a rebound is sustainable, said Conference Board Consumer Research Director Lynn Franco. "The end of the Gulf War in 1991 produced a surge in confidence, but labor market conditions quickly diminished the spark. So, if history repeats itself, the current job scenario will do little to maintain any post-war surge in confidence." U.S. firms axed 308,000 jobs in February, government figures showed, pushing up the unemployment rate to 5.8% from 5.7% in January. The two key components of the Conference Board's consumer confidence barometer -- consumers' expectations and their appraisal of the current situation -- both declined. The expectations index dropped to 62.5 points in March from 65.7 points in February, and the present situation index declined to 62.4 points from 63.5, it said. "We are not going to see a great deal of improvement in consumer confidence until the second half of this year," Wachovia Corp. senior economist Mark Vitner forecast. "I don't think economic conditions will improve that much in the next few weeks." Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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