ABC/Money Poll: Consumer Confidence Stable

A weekly index of U.S. consumer confidence stabilized in the latest week, helped by slightly improved expectations for the future, but persistent worries about the economy kept sentiment not far off eight-year lows.

ABC News/Money Magazine said its weekly Consumer Comfort index edged up for a second week to -20 in the period ended Nov. 3 from -21 in the previous week. The index hit -23 in mid-October, its lowest level since January 1994.

"After a rocky October, consumer confidence leveled off this week, and economic expectations even showed some sign of improvement," ABC/Money said in a release.

Twenty-seven percent of Americans said the economy was in good shape, down from 28 percent in the previous week. This reading is far below a high of 80 percent in January 2000, but is also far above the worst reading in the 16-year history of the survey — 7 percent in late 1991 and early 1992.

While only 17 percent believed the U.S. economy was improving, the number of Americans who said the economy was getting worse fell to 38 percent compared with nearly half of respondents, 48 percent, in the previous survey.

Some 55 percent of Americans rated their personal finances as positive, up from 53 percent the preceding week.

The index's buying climate gauge, which measures consumers' willingness to spend, gained one percentage point on the week, rising to 38 percent from 37 percent. This index is only one percentage point off the average of 39 percent seen over the past 16 years the survey has been conducted.

A more closely watched survey by The Conference Board, a private business research group, showed consumer confidence was pummeled in October by worries about jobs and a possible U.S. attack on Iraq. That index plummeted for a fifth straight month to the lowest level in nine years.

Analysts have fretted the plunge in confidence could eventually undermine consumer spending, which makes up two-thirds of economic activity and has been the mainstay of the recovery, just as the holiday buying season kicks off.

While auto sales slowed sharply in October as the charm of zero-interest-rate financing has worn off and chain-store sales have shown some moderation, a clear connection has yet to be drawn at this stage of the recovery between falling confidence and cooling spending.

The ABC News/Money Magazine Consumer Comfort Index represents a rolling average of responses to telephone interviews with about 1,000 adults nationwide each month.