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Release Date: 11/05/2012

Consumer Reports Index: Americans’ Financial Woes Lessen Dramatically Ahead Of Election, Winter Holidays

Rising Sentiment, Higher Planned Spending Portends  a Busy Holiday Season for Americans and Retailers

YONKERS, NY — The Consumer Reports Index, an overall measure of Americans’ personal financial health, revealed a major decline in the financial difficulties faced by Americans, and a rise in consumer sentiment ahead of the U.S. presidential election and winter holidays.

“There is reason for optimism this month, with financial difficulties in decline and sentiment moving upward. These are very heartening signs for retailers, especially as we get into the all-important holiday shopping season,” said Ed Farrell, director of consumer insight at the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

The Consumer Reports Index’s Trouble Tracker, which looks at both the proportion of consumers that have faced financial difficulties as well as the number of hurdles they have encountered, declined by 11.5 points to 38.7, its lowest level since first measured in April 2009. The largest improvement (-12.9 points) was among middle-class families earning between $50,000 and $99,000, though lower-income Americans also saw modest improvement (-5.7 points).

Consumer Sentiment pushed into positive territory this month (50.7), propelled by gains among Americans earning $100,000 or more, whose sentiment improved 6.7 points to 59.7. Lower-income Americans, earning less than $50,000, also saw a modest 1.7-point rise, though their sentiment remained in negative territory at 48.2.

The Consumer Reports Index’s employment measure also pushed into positive territory (51.5) this month, up from 49.7 the previous month. This improvement was driven by a decline in those losing a job in the past 30 days, which dropped to 2.7 percent from 6.0 percent a month earlier. In contrast, the share of Americans starting a job in the past 30 days rose modestly to 5.7 percent from 5.3 percent the prior month. These numbers indicate that the economy is gaining more jobs than it’s shedding.

“Job losses fell sharply and more Americans started versus lost jobs. However job starts remain at relatively low levels. Continued progress will hinge on increasing job starts over the coming months to sustain gains,” Farrell said.

The Consumer Reports Index’s next 30-day retail measure, reflecting planned activity in November, showed gains across most categories compared to last month. This was led by items that are usually popular as holiday gifts like personal electronics (21.4, up from 15.9 the prior month) and small appliances (13.8, up from 9.3). However, planned spending this month lags the year-ago figure, suggesting challenges for retailers. Moreover, planned spending among non-index categories decreased for new cars (1.8, down from 3.0) and homes (1.8, down from 2.5), but was up slightly for used cars (3.5, up from 2.8).

The level of stress that consumers reported was unchanged at 57.8 from 58.0 the month before. The most stressed Americans in the past 30 days were those with households earning less than $50,000 (60.6), those in the North East (62.9) – who were bracing themselves for Hurricane Sandy – and adults 65 years of age and older (59.3).

The Consumer Reports Index report, available at www.ConsumerReports.org, comprises responses directly from consumers on five key measures: the Sentiment Index, the Trouble Tracker Index, the Stress Index, the Retail Index and the Employment Index.

The Consumer Reports Index, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is a monthly telephone and cell phone poll of a nationally representative probability sample of American adults. A total of 1,013 interviews were completed (663 telephone and 350 cell phone) among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place between October 25 and October 28. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. The complete index report, methodology and tabular information are available. Contact: James McQueen 516-724-0709 or jmcqueen@consumer.org.

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