NEW YORK - With the holiday shopping season about to start, consumer confidence is hovering near the lowest it's been since President Bush's father was commander in chief. It may dip further as Americans open their 401(k) statements and see how much they've lost in the last few weeks.
The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index is now at 59.8. That's up slightly from a revised 58.5 in August and higher than analysts expected.
But it's still about half what it was a year ago and near the lowest since the index registered 54.6 in October 1992 when the economy was coming out of a recession.
"We are already at battered [confidence] levels, and I would not be surprised if it gets lower from here," said Adam York, an economic analyst at Wachovia Securities.
The Conference Board survey, based on a sample of 5,000 U.S. households, aims at measuring how much faith people have in the job market and in the economy now and over the next six months. Consumer spending represents about two-thirds of all economic activity.
The cutoff date for responses to the survey was September 23 and doesn't capture Monday's stock market plunge.
The present situation index, which measures shoppers' current assessment of the economy, decreased to 58.8 from 65.0 in August. The expectations index, which measures consumers' outlook for the next six months, however, increased to 60.5 from 54.1 in August.
In a statement, Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said that the September results "did not capture all of the tumultuous events in the financial sector this month, and until the dust settles a bit more, we will not know the full impact on consumers' expectations."
The unemployment rate -- now at a five-year high of 6.1 percent -- is expected to hit 7 or 7.5 percent by late 2009, which would be the highest since after the 1990-91 recession. Some economists say the jobless rate could rise even more.