US consumer sentiment slightly better in Aug

U.S. consumer sentiment improves slightly in early Aug, Inflation expectations drop; recession fears weigh, U.S. industrial output posts gain in July, New York factory activity up for first time in 4 months

By (Reuters)

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Published: Fri 15 Aug 2008, 11:05 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:53 AM

NEW YORK - U.S. consumer sentiment improved slightly in early August thanks to a drop in gasoline prices as inflation expectations improved, while industrial output edged up last month, data showed on Friday.

But the modestly upbeat data did little to allay concerns that consumer spending may falter later this year, with recession weighing on consumers' minds and inflation levels still higher compared with a year ago.

"The modestly better tone to the sentiment reading was in all likelihood due to the steep drop in oil prices," said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc. in New York.

"Nonetheless, a very weak trend for consumer spending is the mostly likely scenario in the near- to medium term."

The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said its index of confidence edged up to 61.7 in early August from 61.2 in late July. It fell short of economists' median forecast of 62.0 in a Reuters poll.

The one-year inflation expectations gauge slipped to 4.8 percent from July's 5.1 percent, the biggest one-month drop since September 2006.

U.S. stock prices rose after the data while the U.S. dollar held gains against the euro. U.S. Treasury prices gained on expectations that inflation would wane.

Crude oil prices fell to just over $112 a barrel on Friday, continuing their decline after hitting a record $147.27 in July.

A separate Federal Reserve report showed U.S. industrial production edged up 0.2 percent in July, boosted by the best gain in manufacturing output in 10 months.

That beat economists' forecasts for output to be flat and followed a revised 0.4 percent increase in June.

Manufacturing output climbed 0.4 percent in July after a 0.1 percent gain in June. That was the strongest advance in manufacturing output since a matching 0.4 percent increase in September.

July motor vehicles and parts production rose 3.6 percent after a 4.8 percent increase in June.

"Part of the increase in the auto sector was additional recovery after a strike at an auto parts manufacturer, so you want to discount that somewhat. But it was encouraging to see the auto sector recovering," said Michael Moran, chief economist at Daiwa Securities America in New York.

Excluding motor vehicles and parts, overall industrial output in July was up a scant 0.1 percent after a 0.2 percent June rise.

Regional factory activity showed some slight improvement.

The New York Fed's "Empire State" general business conditions index rose to 2.77 in August from minus 4.92 in July. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a reading of minus 4.4.

But the new orders index fell to minus 2.20 in August from plus 8.27 in July.

The prices paid component dipped in August to plus 65.17 from a record plus 77.89 in July.

Consumer spending was boosted earlier in the year by the government's stimulus measures. But many economists fear consumer spending, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of overall economic activity, will be hurt further on weaker demand, tighter credit and worsening job conditions.

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