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US consumer confidence falls for third consecutive month

In this Sept. 23, 2019 photo shoppers examine refrigerators at a Home Depot store location, in Boston. On Tuesday, Oct. 29, the Conference Board reports on U.S. consumer confidence for October. (Steven Senne / AP)
In this Sept. 23, 2019 photo shoppers examine refrigerators at a Home Depot store location, in Boston. On Tuesday, Oct. 29, the Conference Board reports on U.S. consumer confidence for October. (Steven Senne / AP)
By Martin Crutsinger Associated Press

WASHINGTON – U.S. consumer confidence has fallen for a third consecutive month as optimism about job prospects and business conditions down the road grow weaker.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index edged down to 125.9 in October, compared with 126.3 in September. Perceptions about the present situation improved, but future expectations frayed.

Conference Board economist Lynn Franco said Tuesday that even with the recent declines, confidence remains high. “There are no indications that consumers will curtail their holiday spending,” Franco said.

Confidence has been rattled by a global slowdown and a U.S.-China trade war which have hurt American manufacturers and increased uncertainty.

However, financial markets have rallied in recent weeks on hopes that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Zinping will be able to sign a “phase one” trade agreement when they meet next month in Santiago, Chile at an Asia-Pacific economic conference.

Consumer confidence is closely watched for indications of whether households will keep spending. Consumer spending accounts for 70% of economic activity.

Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG of New York, said that confidence is down only slightly from the July high for this year of 135.8 and remains at levels that signal consumers will keep spending.

“Confidence at this level shows no hint that recession is a worry,” Rupkey said.

He predicted that consumer spending will be strong enough to keep economic growth closer to 2% than 1%. Rupkey said a growth rate of 1% for the gross domestic product was the equivalent of a “stall speed where bad things can happen.”

The government will release its first look at GDP for the July-September quarter on Wednesday. The expectation of many economists is that GDP, which expanded at an annual rate of 2% in the second quarter, will slow to around 1.5% in the third quarter.

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