Buyer confidence flags amid good news

Consumer confidence dropped slightly in February, 3 points, to 95.4 on the Conference Board's confidence index (1969-1970 equals 100), after five consecutive months of gain.

This might be attributed to a ''dramatic and well-publicized decline in the stock market,'' says Fabian Linden, executive director of the board's Consumer Research Center. ''Americans have been conditioned to associate Wall Street's woes with economic hard times.''

The drop in confidence occurred despite good economic news - ''unemployment is down, personal income up, and retail sales have been lively.''

Although consumers remain positive about business conditions - more respondents marked business conditions ''good'' and jobs plentiful in February - their expectations for the next six months were more cautious. Those expecting improvement in business conditions, more jobs, and an increase in their personal income over that period dropped slightly.

Paradoxically, more people were planning large purchases in February than in January. The buying-plans index rose to 107 in February, up from 101.4 the previous month. Plans to buy cars, homes, and major appliances increased in February over January. But people are planning to take less time off: Vacation plans, surveyed every other month, declined to 45.4 percent, from 48.5 percent in December.

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