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June 14, 2013

CONSUMER REPORT: AMERICANS’ FINANCIAL WOES FALL TO LOWEST LEVEL IN FOUR YEARS

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Sentiment stable as employment measure records third straight month in positive territory

YONKERS, NY — The Consumer Reports Index, an overall measure of Americans’ personal financial health, shows Americans are reporting significantly fewer financial troubles. The Index’s trouble tracker measure fell sharply to 34.0 from 41.7 a month earlier—the lowest level since the organization first measured it in April 2009.

The Consumer Reports trouble tracker has dropped more than 50 percent from its high-water mark in September 2009, when this measure reached 68.7. The greatest drop in financial difficulties over the past 30 days was among those in households earning less than $50,000, followed by the most affluent in homes earning $100,000 or more. Amidst this general drop in financial difficulties, middle-income Americans experienced a slight rise in financial troubles.

The Consumer Reports Index’s trouble tracker measure focuses on both the proportion of consumers that have faced difficulties as well as the number of negative events they have encountered. The negative events include: the inability to pay medical bills or afford medication; missed mortgage payment; home foreclosure; interest-rate increase, penalty fees, reduced lines of credit or other changes in credit-card terms; job loss; reduced health-care coverage; and, the denial of personal loans.

“The data offer a glimpse that consumers may be starting to see and feel the progress of the economic recovery,” said Ed Farrell, director of consumer insight at the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

The Consumer Reports Index’s sentiment measure declined 1.9 points to 52.6 from its high point of 54.5 last month, but overall remains in positive territory. The drop was attributable to a fallback among two segments: consumers in households earning less than $50,000 (-2.8), and those with a high school education or less (-4.7).

The Consumer Reports index’s employment measure showed that job gains outpaced job losses for the third straight month. The employment measure was little changed this month, rising slightly to 50.6 from 50.3 a month earlier. This uptick was attributable to an increase in the proportion of Americans starting a new job in the past 30 days, and job gains outpaced job losses by a widening margin. The only group that shed more jobs than it gained was among those with a high school education or less.

“Despite the improvements, consumers are still frigid about robust spending. We are watching closely waiting to see how long it will take them to thaw out from the mindset created by the conditions of the past five years.” Farrell said.

The Consumer Reports Index’s past 30-day retail measure halted four straight months of decline, ticking upward to 9.2 from 8.7 a month earlier. Among the retail categories the Index tracks, the gain was driven primarily by a large seasonal rise in the major lawn and garden equipment category, and a small uptick in major appliances. The Index also shows that consumers are still not comfortable with robust spending. Planned spending for the next 30 days, reflecting potential June activity, is at 6.0, its lowest level since first measured in April 2009.

The level of stress that consumers felt was up slightly to 55.2 from 53.8 last month. The most stressed Americans: women (55.8), those in households earning under $50,000 (57.1), aged 18-34 (56.6), and those in the North East (57.6).

The Consumer Reports Index report, comprises responses directly from consumers on five key measures: the Sentiment Index, the Trouble Tracker Index, the Stress Index, the Retail Index and the Employment Index.

The Consumer Reports Index, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is a monthly telephone and cell phone poll of a nationally representative probability sample of American adults. A total of 1,018 interviews were completed (668 telephone and 350 cell phone) among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place between May 30 and June 2. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.

The complete index report, methodology and tabular information are available. Contact: C. Matt Fields, 914-378-2454,[email protected]

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