The Associated Press/Ipsos CASH Index: At 91.7

Shows Drop In Consumer Confidence

Washington, DC, (AP)- Consumer confidence took a hit over the past month as Americans were less enthusiastic about the economy's prospects and their own financial situations in the months ahead. The Associated Press Poll is conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs. Between February 2-4, 2004, the AP/Ipsos poll interviewed a representative sample of 1,000 adults nationwide, including 774 registered voters. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 for all adults, +/- 3.6 for registered voters. By JEANNINE AVERSA Associated Press The AP-Ipsos consumer confidence index dropped to 91.7 this week, from a revised reading of 106.3 in early January, which had been the best showing since mid-May in 2002. Consumers now are especially less confident about economic conditions over the next six months. A measure of consumers' expectations about such things as the economy's direction and their personal finances down the road showed the sharpest over-the-month decline of four sub-indexes. That "expectations" gauge dipped to 89.2 in early February, compared with 111.2 in early January. [+] click to enlarge A sub-index measuring consumers feelings about current economic conditions and another looking at attitudes toward the investment climate also dipped in February from January, while a sub-index tracking consumers' feelings about job security showed little movement. "The job market will be the dominant force driving consumer confidence and spending going forward," said Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Banc of America Capital Management. Richard Yamarone, economist with Argus Research Corp., said the possibility that the Fed might boost borrowing costs later this year - something economists have mixed opinions on - might be a factor in the confidence dip in February. "That might be making people a little uneasy," he said. Even with the decline in the overall consumer confidence index in February to 91.7, that was still significantly higher than the reading of 65.9 for the same month last year as the U.S. economy was still struggling to get back on firm footing and consumers were jittery about going to war with Iraq. The drop in consumer confidence occurred at the same time that President Bush's approval rating was sinking to 47 percent, according to a separate AP-Ipsos poll taken this week. That was down from a 56 percent approval rating just a month ago. The economy has been a major theme for Democratic contenders who want to take the White House from Bush this fall. Since Bush took office in January 2001, the economy has lost millions of jobs. Democrats blame that on what they believe is Bush's bad economic policies. The president's tax cuts, Democrats contend, haven't resulted in steady and significant job creation and have dug the nation's budget hole deeper. The economy grew at a healthy 4 percent annual rate in the final quarter of 2003, a slowdown from the scorching 8.2 percent pace as the stimulative impact of the tax cuts faded. Economists believe the economy grew at a rate of more than 4 percent in the current quarter. Reaser and other economists predict consumers - the lifeblood of the economy - will keep their pocketbooks and wallets sufficiently open in the months ahead to help keep the economic recovery moving ahead. "Actual consumer behavior at this point - in terms of retail sales and other spending - seems relatively positive," she said. The AP-Ipsos confidence index is benchmarked to a 100 reading on January 2002, the month the index was started by Ipsos. February's index reading was based on interviews with 1,000 adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The January reading of 106.3 was based on the results of a single survey taken early in the month. A previous report put the figure at 100.1 based on a compilation of two surveys, one taken in mid-December and the other in early January. [+] click to enlarge [+] click to enlarge [+] click to enlarge The AP/Ipsos CASH Index is designed to provide a single, handy number that summarizes movement across an array of consumer attitudes, including current assessments and near-term expectations about the economy and personal finances, job security, confidence in the ability to save and invest for the future, and comfort level with making major purchases and other household purchases. Ipsos CASH Index Surveys of consumers are conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, the Washington, D.C.-based division of Ipsos, a leading global survey-based market research group. The Ipsos Consumer Attitudes and Spending by Household (CASH) Index polls are conducted the first and third week of every month, as part of Ipsos-Public Affairs weekly omnibus polling service. The Ipsos CASH Index, started in January 2002, is a bimonthly national survey of consumer attitudes on the current and future state of the local economy, personal financial situation and spending, saving and confidence to invest.

For more information about the Ipsos CASH Index or to receive this report on the first and third week of every month, please e-mail, or contact Brian Scanlon at 202.463.2146. For more information on this press release, please contact: Thomas Riehle President, Ipsos Public Affairs Washington, D.C. 202.463.7300 About Ipsos Public Affairs Ipsos Public Affairs, headquartered in Washington D.C., is a non-partisan, objective, survey-based research company made up of campaign and political polling veterans as well as seasoned research professionals. The company conducts strategic research initiatives for a diverse number of American and international organizations based not only on public opinion research, but often elite stakeholder, corporate and media opinion research. It has offices in New York City, Chicago, San Ramon (CA), and Washington, with affiliates around the world. Ipsos Public Affairs also conducts national and international public opinion polling on behalf of The Associated Press, the world's oldest and largest news organization. Ipsos Public Affairs is a member of the Ipsos Group, a leading global survey-based research firm. To learn more, visit: About Ipsos Ipsos is a leading global survey-based market research group, with revenues of 538.5 million euros in 2002. It offers a full suite of research services, guided by industry experts and bolstered by advanced analytics and methodologies in advertising, marketing, public opinion and customer loyalty research, as well as forecasting and modeling. Member companies also offer a full line of custom, syndicated, omnibus, panel, and online research products and services. To learn more, visit: Ipsos is listed on the Euronext Paris Premier Marchй, and is part of the SBF 120 and Next Prime Indices as well as eligible to the Deferred Settlement System (SRD). Euroclear code 7329, Reuters ISOS.LN, Bloomberg IPS FP

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