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Consumer Confidence Takes a Dive

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NEW YORK The way things are going, The Conference Board might want to consider changing the name of its Consumer Confidence Index. There's not much confidence left to measure.

In a report released today, The Conference Board said the level of confidence sank "to a new all-time low in December." For those of you keeping score at home, the latest Consumer Confidence Index figure is 38 (on a scale pegged to a 1985 benchmark of 100), down from 44.7 in November.

The index's Present Situation component dropped sharply (to 29.4, from 42.3 in November), while the Expectations component declined modestly (to 43.8, from 46.2 in November). A more negative assessment of the job market contributed to consumers' gloomy outlook on current conditions.

The Conference Board report is anything but an outlier, as other measures of consumer confidence have been similarly glum. One example: Rasmussen Reports' release today of its ongoing Consumer Index polling found a grand total of 9 percent of respondents rating the economy as good or excellent, while 61 percent rated its condition as downright poor. Likewise, a Gallup report last week found 78 percent of its respondents voicing negative views of the economy. After a brief uptick around Thanksgiving, Gallup's measure of consumer confidence "remains near the low point for the year." Little wonder that a separate Gallup report earlier in the month found about 40 percent of respondents saying they'd worried about money on the day before being queried.

Such economic gloom is by no means confined to the U.S. That's clear in reading an Ipsos Public Affairs study, issued last week under the cheery title "Global Economic Meltdown: Systemic Shock." Reporting on its latest wave of polling (fielded in November) in 22 countries, the study noted sharp drops in consumer confidence in nearly all of them. In the poll's European Union countries, for example, the percentage of respondents with anything good to say about their national economy sank to 30 percent, from 39 percent in April and 53 percent last October. The Asia/Pacific respondents displayed a similar pattern, with the percentage expressing a positive view of their national economy declining to 32 percent, from 48 percent in April and 62 percent last October. Among the BRIC countries, Brazil was the conspicuous exception to an otherwise steeply downward trend.

Even in Brazil, though, a majority of respondents (76 percent) said they've recently cut back on their spending due to "the current state of the global economy." Indeed, the Netherlands was the study's only country in which fewer than half the respondents said they're cutting their spending (45 percent said so there). The proportions of people saying they are cutting their spending was especially high in South Korea (87 percent), Turkey and Argentina (both 84 percent), Mexico (83 percent), France (81 percent) and China and the U.S. (both 80 percent). It was comparatively low in Sweden (52 percent) and Germany and the Czech Republic (both 59 percent).

Across all countries in the Ipsos report, entertainment was the category in which the highest number of respondents said they've reduced their spending (76 percent said so), followed closely by vacations (73 percent) and luxury items (72 percent).