Consumer confidence shaken

The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index in December fell to 38.0, down from 44.7 in November. The new figure is the lowest since 1967, when the business group began tracking the index. A reading of 100 represents 1985 levels of confidence.

Also on the decline were the Present Situation Index, down from 42.3 last month to 29.4 in December; and the Expectations Index fell from 46.2 to 43.8.

"The further erosion of the Consumer Confidence Index reflects the rapid and steep deterioration of economic conditions that occurred in the fourth quarter of 2008," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center. "The Present Situation Index is now close to levels last seen in the months following the 1990 to 1991 recession, but is not as low as levels reached during the 1981 to 1982 recession. Declines in the Expectations Index appear to be moderating, but this index continues to hover at historical lows. Both sub-indexes bear careful watching over the next several months to see if they are starting to show signs of approaching a bottom. In the meantime, however, the overall economic outlook remains quite dismal for the first half of 2009, and only a modest recovery is expected in the second half."

Consumers' short-term outlook was only moderately more pessimistic. Those anticipating business conditions to worsen over the next six months increased to 32.8 percent from 28.3 percent, while those expecting conditions to improve rose to 13.4 percent from 11.5 percent.

The Consumer Confidence Survey is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households. The monthly survey is conducted for the Conference Board by TNS.