- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — The outlook for the holiday shopping season brightened yesterday with news that consumer confidence soared in November in response to a drop in gasoline prices and a pickup in the job market.

The surge in the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index raised hopes that Americans will be shopping enthusiastically by the end of the holidays despite last weekend’s mixed start of the season. Separate reports yesterday of record sales of new homes and a jump in durable-goods orders provided more signs of an improving economy that is likely to boost shoppers’ spirits.

“It looks like consumers will be in a more giving mood,” said Gary Thayer, chief economist at A.G. Edwards & Sons in St. Louis. But he added: “I don’t think they will spend with abandon. There are still some tight financial problems for many people. We probably will see active shopping for bargains.”

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index rose to 98.9 this month, the highest level since August, when the reading was 105.5. The November figure surpassed analysts’ forecasts for a reading of 90, and it was also up from 85.2 in October. The results reversed a two-month decline.

“A decline of more than 40 cents in gasoline prices this month and the improving job outlook have combined to help restore consumers’ confidence,” said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

“While the index remains below its pre-Katrina levels, the shock of the hurricanes and subsequent leap in gas prices has begun wearing off just in time for the holiday season,” Mr. Franco said.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said sales of new single-family homes shot up by 13 percent last month.

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