U.S. consumer confidence slips; house prices surge

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer confidence fell more than expected in November amid a widespread resurgence in new COVID-19 infections and business restrictions, reinforcing expectations for a sharp slowdown in economic growth in the fourth quarter.

FILE PHOTO: Servers package food at a table at a pop up restaurant set up in Times Square for ‘Taste of Times Square Week’ during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo/File Photo

The survey from the Conference Board on Tuesday followed on the heels of reports this month showing a moderation in job growth and retail sales in October. The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits increased in mid-November.

The economy is losing speed as more than $3 trillion in government coronavirus relief has lapsed. The fiscal stimulus helped millions of unemployed Americans cover daily expenses and small-to-medium sized companies keep workers on payrolls, leading to record economic growth in the third quarter.

Another rescue package is expected only after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20. President Donald Trump is heavily focused on contesting his electoral loss to Biden. Daily new coronavirus cases in the United States have exceeded 100,000 since early November, according to a Reuters tally.

The consumer confidence index dropped to a reading of 96.1 this month from 101.4 in October. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the index falling to a reading of 98 in November. The index was at 132.6 in February.

The cut-off date for the survey was November 13, before more encouraging news on vaccines for the respiratory illness.

The survey’s present situation measure, based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions, slipped to a reading of 105.9. from 106.2 in October. The expectations index based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business and labor market conditions fell to 89.5 from a reading of 98.2 in October.

“Heading into 2021, consumers do not foresee the economy, nor the labor market, gaining strength,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “In addition, the resurgence of COVID-19 is further increasing uncertainty and exacerbating concerns about the outlook.”

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher as the formal go-ahead for Biden’s transition to the White House ended weeks of political uncertainty. The dollar slipped against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were lower.

The survey’s so-called labor market differential, derived from data on respondents’ views on whether jobs are plentiful or hard to get, edged up to a reading of 7.2 this month from 7.1 in October. That measure closely correlates to the unemployment rate in the Labor Department’s employment report. It was as high as 38.3 in August last year.

The share of consumers expecting an increase in income was unchanged at 17.6% this month and the proportion anticipating a drop fell to 13.3% from 14.2% last month.

Growth estimates for the fourth quarter are below a 5% annualized rate. The economy grew at a 33.1% rate in the July-September quarter after contracting at a 31.4% pace in the second quarter, the deepest since the government started keeping records in 1947.

Despite consumer trepidation about the future, the housing market continues to boom. The pandemic has fueled a migration from city centers to suburbs and other lower-density areas as Americans seek more space for home offices and schooling.

A separate report on Tuesday showed the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-metro-area house price index jumped 6.6% from a year ago in September after rising 5.3% in August.

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