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Consumer Confidence Leaps in November
The Conference Board's consumer confidence index jumped to 56 in November, reaching the highest level since July, on improved expectations and views on the present economy. The index rose more than 15 points the largest gain since 2003 from an upwardly revised 40.9 in October.
The research firm's data show measures of present conditions and expectations for the next six months both improved. The percent of respondents expecting more jobs to become available in the next six months and those projecting higher incomes will rise both climbed to four-month highs.
"Consumers' assessment of current conditions finally improved, after six months of steady declines," Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said last week. "Consumers' apprehension regarding the short-term outlook for business conditions, jobs and income prospects eased considerably."
Still, consumers remain concerned about jobs, and the confidence index is well below the level of 90 that indicates an economy on solid footing.
"Consumers appear to be entering the holiday season in better spirits, though overall readings remain historically weak," Franco noted.
The Conference Board's findings follow the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final reading of consumer sentiment, which rose from 60.9 in October to 64.1 in November, the highest since June.
Holiday Shopping Soars During Thanksgiving Weekend
Need a sign that consumer confidence is rebounding? Figures out last week show that Thanksgiving weekend retail sales soared both online and in stores, reaching historic highs during the days marking the ceremonial kickoff to the holiday shopping season.
Retail sales in the week leading up to Black Friday (ending Nov. 26) saw a 4.4 percent increase over the same week in 2010, according to ShopperTrak, while the entire Black Friday weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) saw a 1.9 percent year-over-year increase in sales.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF) last week, a record 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 212 million last year. Total spending reached an estimated $52.4 billion for the weekend, the NRF reports. On Thanksgiving Day alone, 28.7 million people shopped online and at stores, up from 22.2 million last year.
On Cyber Monday last week, online sales jumped 33 percent over the same day in 2010, according to IBM's Smarter Commerce Initiative. Consumers also spent more per order this year than last: consumers spent an average of $198.26 per order this year, up from last year's average Cyber Monday order of $193.24, IBM says.
Finally, comScore reports that $18.7 billion has been spent in retail e-commerce so far this holiday season, marking a 15-percent increase over the same period last year. The most recent week saw three individual days eclipse $1 billion in spending, led by Cyber Monday, which became the heaviest online spending day on record at $1.25 billion.
"Consumers are clearly demonstrating their desire to spend this holiday season, but are far from throwing caution to the wind when it comes to how much they will spend on gifts," Phil Rist, executive VP of BIGresearch, says. "Retailers will have to stick to an aggressive holiday promotion schedule to keep consumers interested."
Unemployment Drops to 2.5-Year Low
The United States labor market added 120,000 non-farm jobs in November, lowering the national unemployment rate from 9 percent in October to 8.6 percent last month, marking the lowest jobless rate since March 2009, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday. Job creation in prior months was also revised upward, with September and October contributing an additional 72,000 jobs combined.
"The latest employment report adds to a growing pile of data showing that the economy continues to strengthen after an early-summer letdown," MarketWatch reports. "The economy has gained an average of 131,000 jobs over the past year, or an even higher 143,000 in the past three months."
The largest gains last month were in the retail trade industry, which added 50,000 jobs, and in professional and business services, which grew by 33,000 jobs. Employment in the manufacturing industry remained relatively unchanged, however, with the largest shifts in fabricated metal products, which added 8,000 jobs, and in electronic instruments, which lost 2,000 jobs.
Despite the gains, labor market conditions remain challenging across the country. Employers have cut nearly 8.7 million jobs since February 2008, and the economy has so far regained only 2.5 million. Although the 120,000 jobs created last month met the rate needed to keep up with population growth, the U.S. would need to produce roughly 250,000 jobs a month for several years to drive the unemployment rate back to its pre-recession level.
"[W]hile the Labor Department's report was one of the strongest since the global economic crisis began in 2008, it was not uniformly positive," Agence France-Presse explains. "Economists pointed to a worryingly sharp drop in the number of people looking for work which helped push down the unemployment rate further than would have been the case. That could mean more and more job seekers feel defeated by the relentless slog of finding a new position and are dropping out of the hunt all together."
Meanwhile, a separate report from the Labor Department indicated that weekly jobless claims rose by 6,000 to a total of 402,000 for the week ending November 26. The four-week moving average rose by 500 to 395,750.