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The Numbers: Consumer Confidence Rises on Signs of Growing Employment

CHICAGO — CONSUMER CONFIDENCE continues to grow, according to the latest Surveys of Consumers by Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan. In the March survey, economists report higher confidence amid signs of growing employment, and increasing home prices also had consumers giving a thumbs up to the future.

“Although confidence dipped in early March, since the middle of the month consumers have expressed improved prospects for economic growth,” says Richard Curtin, Surveys of Consumers chief economist. “Two factors were responsible for the gains: Consumers discounted the administration’s warning about economic catastrophe following the cuts in federal spending, and consumers have renewed their expectations that job gains will accelerate in the months ahead.”

Curtin also says that while optimism like this has been seen before, recent gains look to be sustainable, with a lower unemployment rate and increases in consumer spending on the way.

THE APRIL BEIGE BOOK report from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System appears to back the improving economy. The 12 Federal Reserve Districts indicated at least slight improvements since the previous report. Five districts called the growth moderate; five indicated modest growth; and two reported that expansion accelerated slightly. Most of the activity was in manufacturing, and most districts reported residential and commercial real estate with marked improvement.

Chain stores reported a slight gain—1.6%—in March, as compared with figures from March 2012. Cooler weather is believed to be the cause of the lower-than-expected number. The International Council of Shopping Centers’ chief economist expects a rebound in April.

AFTER INCREASES IN both January and February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a slight decline of 0.5% in prices of U.S. imports, possibly due to higher fuel prices. Export prices also fell slightly, by 0.4%, after a February increase.

The Bureau also reported that 287 metropolitan areas (out of 372) reported lower unemployment rates in February, while 69 areas reported higher numbers and 16 areas showed an unchanged rate. The national unemployment rate from February was 8.1%, a decrease of 0.6% from the previous year.

MARCH SAW INCREASED economic activity in the non-manufacturing sector, according to the latest Non-Manufacturing Institute for Supply Management Report on Business.

“The NMI registered 54.4% in March, 1.6 percentage points lower than the 56% registered in February,” says Anthony Nieves, chair of the ISM’s Non-Manufacturing Business Survey Committee. “This indicates continued growth at a slightly slower rate in the non-manufacturing sector.”

IN THE REAL ESTATE sector, the Pending Home Sales Index from the National Association of Realtors was down only 0.4% in February, but remains 8.4% higher than the number reported in February 2012. In addition, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported a 4.5% increase in mortgage applications for the week ending April 5 from the previous week. Refinancing activity accounted for 75% of the total applications. As for foreclosures, RealtyTrac reports a 1% decrease in foreclosure filings in March, down from the previous month and down 23% from March 2012. The March numbers were the lowest since midway through 2007.


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