Consumer sentiment is stuck in a sweaty summer lull, with the Washington Post-ABC News Consumer Comfort Index spending a sixth week hovering around its 19-year average, according to new data released today .
This week's consumer index stands at -9, two points higher than last week, identical to the week before and roughly similar to the 2005 average of -12. This represents a recovery from the spring, when confidence dipped down as low as -19 before ticking back up.
Consumers, deep into vacation season, have been on the receiving end of conflicting economic trends. Gas prices have moved fairly steadily upward over the past month and a half, reaching a national average of $2.36 per gallon, according to data released yesterday by the Energy Information Administration. At the same time, unemployment is down and consumer prices were flat last month.
The confidence index is a composite of three questions that measure ratings of respondents' personal finances, the national economy and the buying climate. Across its 19-year history the index -- which is measured on a scale of -100 to 100 -- has averaged -9, ranging from a high of 38 in Jan. 2000 to a low of -50 in Feb. 1992.
Nationally, about six in ten Americans rated the economy negatively in the current survey, identical to the proportion who had similarly dim views at the start of the year. As is generally true, respondents were more sanguine when it came to their personal financial situations: six in ten rated those positively. Only one third (36 percent) said now was a good time to buy needed merchandise, similar to the 2005 average.The Post-ABC Consumer Comfort Index is a rolling average based on telephone interviews with 1,000 randomly selected adults over the previous four-week period. The latest index is based on interviews conducted through July 17. Margin of sampling error for the results of individual questions is plus or minus three percentage points.