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U.S. consumer confidence unexpectedly fell for a fourth straight month as sentiment about current labor-market conditions eased, posing a challenge to retailers heading into the all-important holiday-shopping season.

The Conference Board’s gauge decreased to 125.5 from an upwardly revised 126.1 in October. The reading, issued Tuesday, fell short of the 127 median projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists. The group’s measure of present conditions dropped to a five-month low, while economic expectations rose for the first time since July.

Key Insights

  • The string of declines is the longest since March-June 2012 and shows cracks may be emerging in what’s been the economy’s mainstay — consumer spending. Job gains have been moderating along with wage growth, suggesting households may pull back some after two very solid quarters of consumer spending that have kept the economy forging ahead.
  • The share of consumers who said jobs were plentiful fell to 44.8% in November from 47.7% a month earlier, while the share of those who said positions were hard to get climbed to a five-month high.
  • Expectations of the economy eased as 17.2% said business conditions would be better in the coming six months, down from 18.7% in October.
  • Other recent data on sentiment have been mixed, with the University of Michigan’s gauge at a four-month high in November and the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort weekly measure near its lowest point since January.

Official’s View

“The decline in the Present Situation Index suggests that economic growth in the final quarter of 2019 will remain weak,” Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, said in a statement. “However, consumers’ short-term expectations improved modestly, and growth in early 2020 is likely to remain at around 2%.”

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  • Purchase plans were mixed with more respondents indicating they plan to buy a car in the next six months, while fewer said they were planning purchases of major appliances and new homes.
  • Income expectations improved as a three-month high 21.8% said they expected their incomes to be higher six months from now.
  • As for price expectations, the average inflation rate is projected to be 4.4% in a year, the lowest since February.
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