Consumer confidence falls in August

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NEW YORK (AP) — Americans are feeling worse about the economy than they have in a long time — a fact that could have wide-reaching implications everywhere from Walmart to the White House.

Despite improving U.S. job and housing markets, consumer confidence fell to the lowest level it’s been since November 2011, according to The Conference Board, a private research group.

The results are the latest swing in the index, which has been on a roller coaster ride this year.

The index declined in January, rose in February and then posted four months of declines before registering an increase in July. August’s reading indicates that the gains in the job and housing markets aren’t big enough to put to rest Americans’ economic fears.

That not only threatens to put a damper on retail sales for the back-to-school and winter holiday seasons — the two biggest shopping periods of the year — but it also could have an impact on how Americans vote in November’s presidential election.

Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo Securities senior economist, says he has looked at October confidence figures during the past elections of sitting presidents since 1972. No president has been re-elected when confidence was below a reading of 90, which indicates a healthy economy. The index hasn’t reached that level since December 2007.

The New York-based Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index in August fell to 60.6, down from a revised 65.4 in July and the 66 analysts were expecting. The index now stands at the lowest it’s been since November 2011 when the reading was at 55.2.

In addition to worries about jobs and business conditions, Americans’ outlook also may be influenced by gas prices. They fell sharply from a peak of $3.94 in early April, but have started to surge again in recent weeks. In fact, gas prices at the pump rose 19 cents to $3.71 during the period that captures the survey.

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