Consumer Confidence Falls Unexpectedly

U.S. consumer confidence slipped in July from three-year highs reached in June as consumers took a more mixed view of their job prospects, the Conference Board (search) said Tuesday.

The Conference Board said its gauge of consumer sentiment fell to 103.2 from a revised 106.2 in June. Analysts had looked for a reading of 106.0 in July.

"Consumer confidence was softer than expected in July," said Gary Thayer, chief economist at A.G. Edwards and Sons in St. Louis. "It looks as if consumers were a little bit more concerned about their job prospects."

The portion of consumers surveyed saying jobs were "hard to get" in the survey rose to 23.8 percent from 22.5 percent, but those saying jobs were "plentiful" held firm at 22.5 percent.

Economists said that confidence still looked solid though.

"Overall, confidence is still at a healthy level, up from where it was a year ago, though we did pull back a bit from the three-year high that we saw in June," Thayer said.

Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center, said the July decline in consumer confidence was no cause for concern.

"The overall state of the economy remains healthy and consumers' outlook suggests no storm clouds on the short-term horizon," Franco said. "Even the steady upward tick of fuel prices at the pump has done relatively little to dampen consumers' spirits."

The research group's present situation reading fell to 118.5 in July from 120.8 in June while its expectations index measure fell to 93.0 in July from 96.4.

Consumer spending (search) is the backbone of the U.S. economy, accounting for two-thirds of activity, and changes in confidence are seen as a possible precursor to softer or stronger growth.

In recent years, however, the correlation between confidence and retail sales has weakened, with consumers purchasing cars and homes even as they tell surveys that things are getting worse.