US Consumer Confidence in Thanksgiving Rout

28 November 2008

NEW YORK: For reasons unassociated with the global financial meltdown, today is known stateside as Black Friday* – the day after Thanksgiving Day and one of the busiest shopping days of the year. This year, however, the soubriquet is appropriate in a quite different sense, according to data from ABC News' Consumer Comfort Index

In the light of the latest numbers, the study might better be termed Consumer Discomfort Index. On a scale of minus 100 (dreadful) to +100 (wonderful), the overall index figure now stands at -52, equalling its lowest level in twenty-two years of weekly polling.

The current wave of pessimism defies one of the poll's fundamental truisms: that the price of gas [petrol] is a key innfluence on consumers' collective mood. Not this Black Friday, it ain't!

Even though gas prices continue their southbound trajectory (one gallon of regular gas now costs $1.22 less than it did a year ago – and  $2.25 less that at its July peak), consumers' mien on the obverall economy remains as black as today's date.

Among the study's findings …

  • Personal finances: The trend here reflects  people's reading of the economy at large. Positive ratings of personal finances are down 15 points on the year to just one point from their record low in March 1993.
  • Despite which, a surprising 43% of respondents gave their own finances a positive rating.
  • But just 8% rated the national economy in positive terms.
  • Responses to a question about the 'buying climate' (whether this is a good or bad time to buy things) achieved a median rating between the national and personal ethos, with 21% believing it's a 'good' or 'excellent time' to be buying.
  • Historically, says ABC, men are typically much less gloomy than women. But in today's climate there's little difference between the sexes, with men's responses averaging minus 48 and women's minus 56. A year ago, by comparison, the figure was -10 for men and -30 for women.
  • Married respondents are somewhat less gloomy than singles (-46 versus -67). There's a significant amount of regional variation, with the index figure ranging from a relative high of -45 in the South of the nation to a low of -62 in the Northeast.
The general tenor of the ABC index was echoed earlier this week by Gallup, which registered a meager 12% of respondents in agreement with the proposition that now is "a good time to find a quality job" – the lowest rating since this question was first asked back in 2001.

*The term "Black Friday" originated in Philadelphia many years back, referring to the heavy traffic on that day. More recently, retailers and the media have used it instead to refer to the beginning of the period in which the former are in the black (ie, turning a profit).

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff