In the latest report released by the US Conference Board, the Consumer Confidence Index remained virtually unchanged in March, registering at 104.7, compared to a slightly revised figure of 104.8 in February.

This minor adjustment reflects a complex picture of consumer sentiment, where confidence in current conditions slightly improved but concerns about the future grew.

Present conditions improve

The Present Situation Index, which assesses consumers’ views on current business and labour market conditions, saw an uptick in March to 151.0 from February’s 147.6.

This rise indicates a growing positivity regarding the immediate employment landscape, with a notable increase in the number of consumers viewing jobs as “plentiful.”

Specifically, 43.1% of respondents described jobs as plentiful, an increase from 42.8% the previous month. Conversely, those finding business conditions “good” dipped slightly to 19.5% from 20.4%, hinting at a nuanced perception of the economic environment.

Future expectations dip

In contrast, the Expectations Index, which forecasts consumers’ outlook for income, business, and labour market conditions over the next six months, declined to 73.8 from 76.3.

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This figure is below the threshold of 80, often associated with recession fears.

Such pessimism is partly due to a more negative outlook on short-term business conditions, with 17.6% of consumers expecting a downturn, an increase from 16.9%.

Recession concerns and financial outlook

Despite a stable overall confidence level, the detailed responses paint a picture of growing economic anxiety.

Consumers expressed heightened worries about inflation, particularly around food and gas prices, though complaints about gas prices have seen a downward trend.

Average inflation expectations over the next 12 months remained steady at 5.3%, slightly up from February’s four-year low of 5.2%.

The report also highlights divergent feelings based on age and income. Confidence improved among consumers aged 55 and over, whereas it declined for those under 55.

Furthermore, individuals in the $50,000-$99,999 income bracket reported a drop in confidence, in contrast to slight improvements across other income groups.

Additionally, while the likelihood of a US recession over the next 12 months is perceived to be decreasing, concerns over the political environment in the U.S. have intensified.

Assessments of personal financial situations, both current and future, were less optimistic, signalling caution among consumers.

The Consumer Confidence Survey, conducted online with over 36 million consumers by Toluna for The Conference Board, closed its preliminary results on March 18.

This comprehensive survey offers a snapshot of the public’s economic sentiment, underlining the balance between present positivity and future caution that characterises consumer confidence in March.