Conference Board: Consumers Less Upbeat in March

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U.S. consumer confidence (search) ebbed in March as higher gasoline prices dampened the moods of car-reliant Americans, a Conference Board report said on Tuesday.

As gas pump costs soared, the Conference Board (search) said its gauge of sentiment eased to 102.4 from a revised 104.4 in February. Analysts had looked for a dip to 103.0.

The worsening confidence came as consumers felt gloomier about the labor market, despite signs of increased hiring in recent government data. The proportion of consumers saying jobs were "hard to get" in The Conference Board survey rose to 23.8 percent from 22.4 percent.

The research group's expectations index measure declined to 93.7 from 96.1, while the present situation reading dipped to 115.6 from 116.8.

Consumer spending is the backbone of the U.S. economy, accounting for two-thirds of overall activity, so deteriorating confidence is tracked as a possible precursor to softer growth.

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