Economic Report: U.S. consumer confidence tumbles in December to lowest level since pandemic began

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The numbers: U.S. consumer confidence stumbled for the second straight month in December, hitting its lowest level since the worst period of the coronavirus lockdowns in May.

The index of consumer confidence fell to 88.6 this month from a revised 92.9 in November, the Conference Board said Tuesday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast confidence would rise to 96.7 in December. The index had hit 101.4 in October.

Confidence remains far below pre-pandemic levels. The index stood at 132.6 before the viral outbreak in February.

What happened: An index that tracks how consumers feel the economy right now dropped to 90.3 in December from 105.9 in November.

Another gauge that assess how Americans view the next six months – the so-called future expectations index – inched up to 87.5 from 84.3.

Big picture: Rising virus cases across the country and renewed restrictions on businesses are negative for sentiment. These are offset in part by rising home prices and news of the vaccine rollout. A separate measure of sentiment, from the University of Michigan, had improved in early December.

What the Conference Board said: “Overall, it appears that growth has weakened further in the fourth quarter, and consumers do not foresee the economy gaining any significant momentum in early 2021,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at the Conference Board.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.41% was down 131 points after the data was released.