Confidence: Becoming Harder to Find in This Economy?

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Despite the recent uptick in optimism, consumer sentiment is failing to return to pre-crisis levels. According to Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s preliminary reading, consumer sentiment fell to 79.9 in March compared to a final reading of 81.6 in February.

The results were worse than expected as consumers feel worse about their futures. On average, economists expected the index to reach 82 this month. In 2013, consumer sentiment ranged from a low of 73.2 in October to a high of 85.1 in July. The preliminary reading was the worst level for consumer sentiment since November, when it reached 75.1 amid the government shutdown drama.

On the positive, Americans are not allowing the frigid winter and war drums affect their moods significantly. “Overall, consumers continued to demonstrate their resilience in the face of a long and harsh winter, and have not recognized any implications for the domestic economy from the Russian incursion into Ukraine,” survey director Richard Curtin said in a statement.

During the last recession, the index averaged slightly above 64. In the five years before the financial crisis, it averaged almost 90. Consumer sentiment is one of the most popular measures of how Americans rate financial conditions and attitudes about the economy. The University of Michigan’s Consumer Survey Center questions 500 households each month for the index.

Current economic conditions, which measure whether Americans think it is a good time to make large investments, increased to 96.1, from the final reading of 95.4 in February. Consumer expectations dropped to 69.4 this month from 72.7, its weakest level since November.

What’s weighing on Americans these days? Earlier in the week, Gallup revealed three main issues troubling the nation: unemployment, the economy in general, and dissatisfaction with government. In fact, 19 percent of people polled think the most important problem facing the country is the labor market.

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