Consumer confidence has reached a new low for the year in the wake of soaring gasoline prices across the nation, with the latest Washington Post-ABC News Consumer Comfort Index standing at -13, down four points from last week and three points below its 19-year average.
The index of consumer sentiment was last in this territory in the summer of 2004, following a late winter and spring surge in gas prices that sent consumer confidence reeling until late June.
A Post-ABC News poll conducted earlier this month found roughly six in 10 Americans said that their household was feeling the pinch of rising fuel costs, with three in 10 reporting "serious financial hardship" because of rising prices at the pump.
Confidence sagged across every age group. Regionally, the drop was particularly marked in the Northeast, which up until last week had seemed on the rebound from a winter slump in consumer spirits. Middle-income households dropped more than others.
Overall ratings of the national economy and the buying climate remain negative. Nearly two-thirds rate the national economy as "not so good" or "poor," and six in 10 say it is not a particularly good time to make purchases. Both measures have soured slightly during the past three weeks, although it is the economic index that is furthest from its annual average.
Still, almost six in 10 Americans rate their own personal finances as "excellent" or "good," a figure that has remained fairly steady in recent months. And the overall index still has a ways to go before hitting last year's low of -22, which it reached last March. Across its 19-year history the index has averaged -10, ranging from a high of 38 in Jan. 2000 to a low of -50 in Feb. 1992.
The Conference Board also released their consumer confidence index today, reporting a drop for the second month in a row.
The Post-ABC Consumer Comfort Index is a rolling average based on telephone interviews with 1,000 randomly selected adults during the previous four-week period. The latest index is based on interviews conducted through March 27. Margin of sampling error for the results of individual questions is plus or minus three percentage points.