The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index slipped four points to 107.2 in March, compared to 111.2 in February, a significant drop that the business research organization said is not yet cause for alarm.
"Apprehension about the short-term future has suddenly cast a cloud over consumers' confidence," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center. "Despite diminishing expectations, consumers' assessment of present-day conditions remains steady and does not suggest a weakening in economic conditions."
The Expectations Index, which is more forward looking, also declined, falling to 86.9 from 93.8 in February. The Present Situation Index increased slightly, to 137.6 from February's 137.1. Those claiming conditions are "good" fell to 28.3% from 28.7%. Those saying conditions are "bad" was virtually unchanged at 14.9%.
Regarding the mixed signals sent by the indices, Franco said, "The recent turmoil in financial markets coupled with the run-up in gasoline prices may have contributed to consumers' heightened sense of uncertainty and concern. The direction of both components over the next few months bears watching to determine whether this decline is just a bump in the road or something more substantial."
Consumers' views of the labor market were similarly mixed. Those saying jobs are "hard to get" increased to 19.1% from 17.9%; those claiming jobs are "plentiful" increased to 30.5% from 27.8% in February. Their longer term outlook was more pessimistic, with the number expecting fewer jobs in the months ahead increasing to 16.5% from 14.2% and the number expecting jobs to become more available declining to 12.7% from 13.3%. The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase in the months ahead fell to 17.5% from 19.2% in February.
Consumers' overall assessment of present-day conditions was little changed in March. Those claiming conditions are "good" dipped to 28.3% from 28.7%. Those saying conditions are "bad" was virtually unchanged at 14.9%.
The Consumer Confidence Survey is based on a monthly survey of 5,000 U.S. households.