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Consumer sentiment improves for low and high income groups

YONKERS, N.Y. — Retailers that cater to lower-income and higher-income consumers should be pleased with the most recent Consumer Reports Index, as those two groups showed the greatest improvement in consumer sentiment.

The Consumer Reports Index, an overall measure of Americans' personal financial health, saw a sharp improvement in its consumer sentiment measure, which jumped to its highest level since October 2008.

The rise in sentiment (53.1 from 47.5 the previous month) was broad-based, with significant gains among those Americans in households earning less than $50,000 (+5.5 pts) as well as more affluent households earning $100,000 or more (+7.7 pts).

"With more than half the country earning less than 50,000, any improvement among that group may have a significant impact on the economy. They still have some distance to climb, but these are positive signs," said Ed Farrell, director of consumer insight at the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

The improvement in consumers' mood was supported by a decline in financial difficulties, which reached the lowest level since first measured in April 2009. The Consumer Reports Index's Trouble Tracker, a gauge of financial difficulties faced by Americans in the past 30 days, dropped to 41.8, down from 46.5 last month.

The decline in financial troubles was evident in both lower- and upper-income households. However, the level of financial difficulties faced by those in households earning less than $50,000 is three times as great as experienced by those in more affluent households (earning $100,000 or more) as measured by the Trouble Tracker, 58.9 versus 19.5, respectively.

The Consumer Reports Index's employment measure climbed into positive territory this month (50.9), up from 49.7 last month, indicating that more Americans have started a new job versus those that reported losing a job in the past 30 days. The employment measure's improvement was driven by a gain in job starts (5.5%), up from 4.0% last month, reversing a three-month decline. 

After a five-month slide, the index's past 30-day retail measure moved upward this month to 9.9 from 8.9 a month earlier, but is virtually unchanged from a year ago (10.2). Planned purchasing over the next 30 days (8.6), reflecting intent to buy in July, was also up versus last month (7.0), but lags last year at this time (7.7).

Gains for the Consumer Reports Index's next 30-day retail measure for June, reflecting July activity, were driven by personal electronics (17.7%, up from 15.0% a month earlier), and major home electronics (10.9%, up from 7.1% the prior month).

"This positive start to the summer, with all measures moving in a favorable direction, indicates a better economic picture overall. Over the past four years, we have seen that gains can prove to be fragile. Holding and building on these improvements will depend most on continued job growth to ensure a durable gain in the consumer outlook," Farrell said.

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