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Consumer sentiment improves in January

January 15, 2010 | 10:11 am

Consumers have gotten more optimistic since the holidays, but experts are divided over the extent of the increase.

The 72.8 preliminary index of sentiment for January, as reported by the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, was up slightly from the 72.5 noted in late December.

But according to ratings group Consumer Reports, the January Consumer Index grew in leaps and bounds, up to 44.1, from 41.8 in December.

It’s the first meaningful boost since June, according to the group. The youngest age bracket -- those between 18 and 34 years old -- were in the best spirits, with a 49.1 level. Households with annual incomes between $50,000 and $99,000 were also relatively optimistic, at 50.3.

The Trouble Tracker index, which measures the amount of financial difficulties consumers face, was at its lowest level in five months, at 58.2. December’s index fell to 62, from 68.7 in September.

More than 14% of consumers said they struggled with credit card issues such as booming interest rates and penalty fees, while nearly 13% said they were unable to cover medical bills or pay for medication. And 8% reported losing their healthcare coverage or having it reduced. 

The Stress Index settled at 59, down from 63 in December despite the anxiety associated with the holidays.

The Reuters/University of Michigan data showed that the measure of current economic conditions, which evaluates how consumers feel about their finances and their readiness to make major purchases, hit 81 in January, up from 78 in December. 

Consumer expectations for the next six months, often used as a predictor for spending, fell to 67.5, from 68.9 in December.

-- Tiffany Hsu

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