NEW YORK – Consumer confidence rose for the fourth straight month in July thanks to steady improvements in the job market, the Conference Board (search) reported Tuesday, putting the indicator at a two-year high.
The New York-based research group reported that its index for consumer confidence rose to 106.1 in July, up from 102.8 in June and well ahead of the figure of 102.0 that investors had been expecting. It was the highest level for the indicator since June 2002.
Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center, said the gains were fueled by a better outlook for jobs, "and unless the job market sours, consumer confidence should continue to post solid numbers."
A measure of consumer expectations for future economic conditions rose sharply in June, while another one gauging their sense of current conditions edged higher. The group's "expectations index" jumped to 105.8 from 100.8 last month, while the "present situation" index was up to 106.5 from 105.9.
"Everything you see here is corroborating what we've seen in other indicators — that the labor market is improving," said Josh Feinman, chief economist at Deutsche Asset Management (search).
While the turnaround in employment over the last several months has been gradual, Feinman said he expected the improvements to hold. "I think it's pretty solid," Feinman said of the employment gains. But he added that "it hasn't been super fast — it's like an oil tanker changing directions."
The survey found that consumers' expectations for the next six months were somewhat more optimistic than last month. Respondents who said they expected business conditions to worsen declined to 7.0 percent from 9.1 percent, while those expecting better conditions was relatively unchanged at 23.2 percent versus 23.5.
As for current conditions, the survey also painted a picture that was favorable overall, but with a few dark spots. About the same number of people as last month said they thought business conditions were "good" — 25.6 percent versus 25.8 percent.
But those saying conditions were "bad" edged up to 19.1 percent from 17.4 percent. However, respondents saying that jobs seemed to be plentiful rose to 19.8 percent from 18.3 percent, and the number saying jobs were hard to get was essentially unchanged, at 26.0 percent versus 26.2 percent.
The Conference Board's indexes were derived from responses received through July 20 to a survey mailed to 5,000 households in a consumer research panel. The figures released Tuesday include responses from at least 2,500 households. The figures for June were revised after all the surveys were tabulated.