WASHINGTON – Americans turned slightly more anxious about the job market this month.
The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index fell to 97.6 in October, down from a nine-month high of 102.6 in September.
“Consumers still rate current conditions favourably, but they do not anticipate the economy strengthening much in the near-term,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board.
Fewer people surveyed for the business research group described jobs as “plentiful” compared to September, with that measure slipping to 22.2 per cent from 24.8 per cent.
The decline likely reflects the results of two consecutive jobs reports. Employers added just 142,000 jobs in September and 136,000 jobs in August, after routinely chalking up monthly net jobs gains in excess of 200,000.
Global pressures have shifted more of the burden for economic growth onto U.S. consumers — an uneasy transition in recent months. Auto sales, home-buying and spending at restaurants have advanced. But continued gains will hinge in part on steady job gains.
Many economists say that overall growth has been muted in during the most recent financial quarter. The private forecaster Macroeconomic Advisers said Monday that annualized economic growth in the July-September quarter is tracking 1.5 per cent, down from 3.9 per cent in the prior quarter.
Consumer spending accounts for 70 per cent of all U.S. economic activity. But its significance has increased as the global economy has struggled.
Economic growth in China has been slowing, prompting its central bank to cut interest rates last week in hopes of boosting the world’s second largest economy. A less robust China has hit prices for oil, coal and other commodities.
As a result of less demand, oil costs have nearly halved to roughly $44 a barrel over the past year. The cheaper oil has hammered emerging economies such as Brazil and Russia, in addition to many Middle Eastern producers. The European economy has struggled to grow at all, advancing at an annual pace of less than 2 per cent.
The result of slower economic growth worldwide has been a stronger dollar, making U.S. goods more expensive abroad and reducing exports. The lower oil costs have also damaged the U.S. energy sector, forcing layoffs among drilling companies and leading to cutbacks on orders for pipeline and equipment.