Consumer confidence dips to 100.9 as virus spreads in US

Matt Ott
Associated Press

Silver Spring, Md. – U.S. consumer confidence dipped slightly in October as a new wave of coronavirus cases appeared across the country.

The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its consumer confidence index fell to a reading of 100.9, from 101.8 in September, but still remains well below pre-pandemic levels. This month’s moderate decline follows a sharp rise in September.

Consumer spending accounts for 70% of economic activity in the U.S., so a decline in confidence gets a lot of attention from economists, especially as the U.S. heads into the crucial holiday shopping season.

Consumer confidence tumbled to 85.7 in April as large swaths of the country went into lockdown to check infections. It had consistently been well above 100 in the months before that, with the index hitting 132.6 in February before the severity of COVID-19 infections became clear.

Now, average deaths per day across the country are up 10% over the past two weeks, from 721 to nearly 794 as of Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Newly confirmed infections per day are rising in 47 states, and deaths are up in 34.

The part of the index that measures present conditions – which is based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions – also increased from 98.9 to 104.6. However, consumers were less optimistic this month about the future, as the expectations index dipped to 98.4 in October from 102.9 last month.

Factors including the recent rise in coronavirus cases across the U.S., along with ongoing elevated job losses and uncertainty over next week’s presidential election may have played a part in consumers’ apprehension about the future.

“All of the negativity that accompanies presidential campaigns tends to weigh down on confidence in the month before an election,” said Stephen Stanley, an economist with Amherst Pierpont. “Though some may also blame the uptick in the virus.”