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Americans continue to see some real improvements in their economic outlook, financial difficulties and stress levels have declined and the employment numbers have climbed back into positive territory, according to the Consumer Reports Index for November.
The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index, which measures financial difficulties faced by consumers in the past 30 days, has declined for five straight months and now stands at 49.3, down from 50.5 the prior month and is greatly improved from one year ago (62.1). In the mean time, the Consumer Reports Stress Index, a measure of the stress consumers feel in their everyday lives versus a year ago, was down in November to 58.5 from 63.2 the prior month, and is also down versus one year ago (60.5).
The November report also shows the Consumer Reports Employment Index is up slightly, (50.3 from 49.5 the prior month, and 49.0 one year ago) capping three months of modest gains. In the past 30 days the proportion of Americans that have lost their job has fallen to 4.9 percent, down from 6.7 percent a month earlier. The number of Americans that have started a job in the past 30 days (5.5%) outpaced those that have lost their job (4.9%) by a small margin. The job loss numbers for October were at their lowest level since April and are down substantially from one year ago (7.1%).
While the Consumer Reports Past 30-Day Retail Index shows spending was up in October (10.9, up from both the prior month 9.9 and a year ago 9.0), as Black Friday approaches there are some troubling signs for retailers. The Consumer Reports Next 30-Day Retail Index for November (reflecting planned November activity) is down (8.0) versus a year ago (9.0), led by the soft interest in planned purchasing of personal electronics relative to last year (18.2% versus 24.9%, respectively).
“Consumers are telling us that things are getting better economically, but personal electronics is one of the most popular holiday gift categories, the fact that there is significantly less interest than last year in buying them on the eve of the holiday shopping season suggest that consumers are still in a scale-back mindset,” said Ed Farrell, a director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
The Consumer Reports Index report, available at www.ConsumerReports.org, comprises five key indices: the Sentiment Index, the Trouble Tracker Index, the Stress Index, the Retail Index, and the Employment Index. Here are the key findings:
Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index: 49.3
- The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index showed further improvement this month, pointing to fewer troubles for consumers, dropping to 49.3 in November from 50.5 in October, and is down substantially from a year ago (62.1).
- Positive developments were led by a decline in the number of consumers that lost their job in the past 30 days to 4.9% from 6.7% in October; a drop in the proportion of consumers that faced credit card rate increases or increased fees or reduced credit line, to 6.0% from 7.6% the prior month; and fewer consumers missing a mortgage payment (2.0%) compared to the prior month (3.0%).
- On the downside, there were troubling increases in some of the problems consumer confront. This month 14.5% reported they could not afford medical bills and medications, up from 12.7% the prior month. The number of those who lost or face reduced health care rose to 8.7% from 6.7%. Overall the most prevalent consumer troubles include: the inability to afford medical bills or medications (14.5%), missed payment on major bills, but not the mortgage (8.9%), and lost or reduced health care coverage (8.7%).
The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker focuses on both the proportion of consumers that have faced difficulties as well as the number of negative events they have encountered. The negative events include: the inability to pay medical bills or afford medication, missed mortgage payments, home foreclosure, interest-rate increase, penalty fees, reduced lines of credit or other changes in credit-card terms, job loss or layoffs, reduced healthcare coverage, or the denial of personal loans. The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index is then calculated as the proportion of consumers that have experienced at least one of the negative events comprising the index multiplied by the average number of events encountered
Consumer Reports Retail Index: Past 30-Day – 10.9, Next 30-Day – 8.0
- The Consumer Reports Past 30-Day Retail Index for November (reflective of October activity) is 10.9, up from the prior month (9.9), as well as a year ago (9.0). The Next 30-Day Retail Index, (reflecting planned purchases for November) is at 8.0 and is up slightly from last month (7.4)— breaking three months of decline. However, planned purchases for November still lag one year ago (9.0). Per capita spending for the index categories in the past 30 days was $249, up from $212 the prior month.
- Looking in detail at the categories comprising Consumer Reports Past 30-Day Retail Index, gains were attributable to an uptick in major appliance sales versus the prior month (9.2% versus 7.1%, respectively), and gains in home electronics, up to 11.8% from 10.0% a month earlier.
- The gain in planned purchases for November was attributable to an increase in buying personal electronics (18.2%), up from 16.1% a month earlier, and a gain in planned purchasing for small appliances (12.5%) versus the prior month (11.5%). But, planned purchasing of personal electronics this November (18.2%) is behind last November (24.9%) by a substantial margin. Considering the importance of this category to the holiday shopping season, this could point to a soft start this year.
- Among the large ticket purchase not included in the Consumer Reports Retail Index categories, past 30-day purchases (reflecting October activity) were down versus the prior month for both new cars (2.1% versus 3.0%, respectively) and used cars (3.0% versus 4.0%, respectively). Home purchases were up slightly (2.9%) relative to October (2.0%).
- Planned purchasing (reflects November activity) for large ticket items points to new cars (1.4%) and used cars (2.9%) being off slightly from the prior month, but on par with last year. As the economy enters the holiday season, planned purchasing for homes (1.1%) in the next 30 days, reflecting November activity, is down versus last month (3.0%), but unchanged from a year ago.
The Consumer Reports Retail Index looks at consumer purchases in the past 30 days as well as the outlook for planned purchases in the next 30 days across several categories. The Consumer Reports Retail Index represents the proportion of respondents that made a purchase in the following categories: major home appliances, small home appliances, major home electronics, personal electronics, and major yard and garden equipment. The Retail Index is a weighted calculation. For example, a major appliance is of greater value than a small appliance. Because of their size and frequency, car and home purchases are tracked separately.
Consumer Reports Sentiment Index: 46.6
- The Consumer Reports Sentiment Index is currently at 46.6, up slightly from both 44.8 the prior month, and 42.2 a year ago. Sentiment has doggedly refused to enter positive territory (over 50) since it was first measured by the Consumer Reports Index on October 5, 2008 and stood at 45.3.
- The most optimistic consumers are between age 18-34 (58.4 up from 54.3 the prior month), and with household incomes of $100,000 or more (55.1) The most pessimistic consumers are age 65 and older (38.4) and those with a household income under $50,000 (42.2).
The Consumer Reports Sentiment Index captures respondents’ attitudes regarding their financial situation, asking them if they are feeling better or worse off than a year ago. When the index is greater than 50, more consumers are feeling positive about their situation. When it is below 50, more consumers are feeling worse. The Sentiment Index can vary from a high of 100 to a low of 0.
Consumer Reports Stress Index: 58..5
- The level of stress consumers feel they are under is down to 58.5 from 63.2 the prior month and is also below the level from one year ago (60.5). The Consumer Reports Stress Index now stands at its lowest level since June (57.6).
The Consumer Reports Stress Index captures attitudes regarding the amount of stress consumers feel compared to a year ago. It asks whether they are feeling more stressed or less stressed. When the Stress Index is more than 50, consumers are feeling more stress and when it is below 50 they are feeling less stress compared to a year ago. The index can vary from 100 (Total Stress) to a low of 0 (No Stress).
Consumer Reports Employment Index: 50.3
- The Consumer Reports Employment Index has climbed into positive territory and is up slightly in November (50.3) from both the prior month (49.5) and one year ago (49.0), capping three months of modest gains.
- In the past 30 days the proportion of Americans that have lost their job has fallen to 4.9%, down from 6.7% a month earlier.
- The number of Americans that have started a job in the past 30 days (5.5%) outpaced those that have lost their job (4.9%) by a small margin. Job losses have hit Americans earning under $50,000 the hardest (8.9%).
The Consumer Reports Employment Index examines the change in employment of those that reported starting a new job versus those that have lost their job or were laid off in the past 30 days. An index below 50 indicates more jobs were lost than gained, while a score more than 50 indicates more jobs were gained than lost in the past 30 days.
For more information regarding the Consumer Reports Index, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.
The Consumer Reports Index, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is a monthly telephone and cell phone poll of a nationally representative probability sample of American adults. A total of 1,259 interviews were completed (1,008 telephone and 251 cell phone) among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place between October 28 and October 31, 2010. The margin of error is +/- 2.8 points at a 95% confidence level. The complete index report, methodology, and tabular information are available. Contact: C. Matt Fields, 914.378.2454, email@example.com.
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SOURCE Consumer Reports