updated 3/29/2005 12:18:13 PM ET 2005-03-29T17:18:13

Hurt by consumers’ concerns about jobs, U.S. consumer confidence fell in March for the second consecutive month, a private research group said Tuesday.

Major Market Indices

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index dropped 2.0 points to 102.4, down from a revised 104.4 in February. Analysts had expected a reading of 103. The index had fallen by a revised 0.7 point in February. The March figure was the lowest since November, when the reading was 92.6.

Nevertheless, despite the two declines, Lynn Franco, director of the New York-based Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center, said that consumers still remain resilient.

“Consumers are still quite confident despite recent increases in unemployment claims and rising prices at the gas pump, “ Franco said in a statement. “Their overall assessment of current economic conditions remains favorable and their short-term outlook suggests little change in the months ahead.”

She added, “In fact, while expectations have lost ground, consumers anticipate the job market will continue to improve, and easing employment concerns should help keep spending on track.”

Franco noted that the recent spike in gasoline prices has not had an impact on confidence — not yet. She said that will depend on the duration and how high prices will go.

Economists closely track consumer confidence because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity.

The Expectations Index, one component of the confidence index that measures consumers’ outlook over the next six months, declined to 93.7 from 96.1 last month. The Present Situation Index slipped to 115.6 from 116.8.

The Conference Board’s gauges are derived from responses received through March 23 to a survey mailed to 5,000 households in a consumer research panel. The figures released Tuesday include responses from at least 2,500 households. The figures for March were revised after all the surveys for that month were tabulated.

The report said that consumers’ overall assessment of current conditions remains quite favorable. Those claiming business conditions are “good” edged up to 25.8 percent, but those claiming conditions are “bad” also increased slightly to 16.0 percent from 15.7 percent. The employment picture was also mixed. Consumers saying jobs are “hard to get” rose to 23.8 percent from 22.4 percent, while those claiming jobs are “plentiful” improved to 21.3 percent from 21.1 percent.

Consumers’ outlook for the next six months eased further in March. Those anticipating business conditions to improve increased to 19.2 percent from 17.9 percent, but those expecting business conditions to worsen increased to 8.2 percent from 7.8 percent.

The outlook for the labor market improved in March. Those expecting more jobs to become available in the coming months was virtually unchanged at 15.1 percent. However, those expecting fewer jobs declined to 15.8 percent from 16.5 percent. The proportion of consumers anticipating their incomes to improve in the months ahead edged down to 16.7 percent from 18.7 percent last month.

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