U.S. consumer sentiment slips in February

Paul Wiseman
Associated Press

Washington — American consumers lost a little confidence this month amid worries that slowing economic growth will hurt the job market, the University of Michigan says.

The university said Friday that its consumer sentiment index slipped to 91.7 in February from January’s reading of 92. A year ago, the index stood at 95.4.

Consumers’ assessment of current economic conditions was a bit higher than last month. But their outlook dimmed.

Richard Curtin, chief economist of the university’s surveys, said the dip was unlikely to signal a drop in consumer spending. In fact, the Commerce Department reported Friday that consumer spending rose last month at the fastest pace since May.

Curtin said the Michigan survey found that consumers’ confidence about prospects for their own finances improved to the highest level in a decade. Having endured modest wage gains for years, consumers expect to see an increase in their inflation-adjusted earnings over the next year.

The share of households reporting that their financial situation had improved rose to 47 percent compared with 40 percent in January and the highest in a year. Americans expected income gains of 1.9 percent in the year ahead, tying the January 2015 reading as the highest since 2008.

A rebound in stocks, more job security and low inflation may have boosted Americans’ outlook for incomes. That could set the stage for further gains in consumer spending, which accounts for the lion’s share of the economy.

Still, Americans are worried about a slowdown in U.S. economic growth, Curtin said.

The Commerce Department reported Friday that the economy grew at an annual pace of just 1 percent from October through December, down from 2 percent in the third quarter of 2015. Still, the revised fourth-quarter expansion was an improvement over an initial estimate of 0.7 percent.

Another measure of consumers’ spirits — the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index — fell in February to the lowest level in seventh months, the business research group reported Tuesday. Americans were worried about the economic slowdown and a big drop in the stock market.