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Consumer Reports Index: Sentiment Among Affluent Americans Drops Sharply As Fiscal Cliff Talk Looms

Consumer Reports Index: Sentiment Among Affluent Americans Drops Sharply As Fiscal Cliff Talk Looms

Despite Positive Black Friday Reports, Consumers Show Signs They’re Spending Less Than A Year Ago

YONKERS, NY — The Consumer Reports Index, an overall measure of Americans’ personal financial health, reports that sentiment levels among more affluent Americans earning $100,000 or more have dropped sharply in the past 30 days.

This is the first time the Consumer Reports Index has seen the historically positive sentiment levels of affluent households fall in line with middle- and lower-income households. All income groups are hovering around the 50 mark—indicating that half of Americans feel their financial condition is better, and half worse compared to a year ago.

“It’s understandable that sentiment among wealthier Americans has begun to waiver given the pending fiscal cliff talk and the government’s budget impasse. It is yet to be seen if this will impact their holiday spending,” said Ed Farrell, director of consumer insight at the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

The Consumer Reports Index’s Trouble Tracker measure, which looks at the financial difficulties Americans face, rose this month to 45.5, up from its record low last month of 38.7. Mounting financial difficulties were not broad-based, but instead were centered among those more affluent households earning $100,000 or more. The level of financial difficulties among the most affluent is still far lower than those in households earning less than $50,000, but this gap has narrowed. The level of financial troubles reported by middle and lower income groups was stable compared to last month. 

There may be some challenges for retailers this holiday season, despite reports of a strong Black Friday retail performance. The Consumer Reports Index’s past 30-day retail measure was up this month to 11.1 from 9.6 last month, reflecting the expected holiday jump, but it lagged last year’s performance of 13.9. Anticipated spending over the next 30 days was also down versus last year. The Index’s next 30-day retail measure, reflecting planned spending through December, stands at 10.1, down from 12.7 for this period last year.

The Consumer Reports Index’s employment measure dropped below 50 and was down this month to 49.7 from its high last month of 51.5, indicating that more Americans are losing rather than starting jobs. Job starts in the past 30 days fell to 5.4 percent from 5.7 percent a month earlier, while job losses jumped to 5.9 percent from 2.7 percent. The decline in employment affected those in households earning less than $50,000 most severely, where the index dropped to 47.8 from 51.8 last month.

“Poor employment levels for the lower-income households and fears of fiscal uncertainty for more affluent households were the perfect storm to sink the significant gains seen last month. It will be interesting to see if these trends continue into the New Year,” Farrell added. 

The level of stress that consumers feel was up slightly from last month, 59.1 versus 57.8, respectively. The most stressed Americans in the past 30 days were those in households earning between $50,000 and $99,999 (63.6) and those aged 35-64 (61.1).

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 1,007 interviews were completed (657 telephone and 350 cell phone) among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place between November 29 and December 2. 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: C. Matt Fields, 914-378-2454, CFields@consumer.org

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