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31.10.03, 21:46
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Consumers Cheerier, Jobs May Be Turning
Fri Oct 31,12:38 PM ET Add Business - Reuters to My Yahoo!

By Victoria Thieberger

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The mood of American consumers brightened a little in
October, after they took a break from spending in September, according to
reports on Friday that pointed to growth moderating from the breakneck pace
in the third quarter.

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A separate report on Midwest businesses showed a jump in activity in October
and an encouraging lift in employment to its highest level since January
2000, bolstering optimism that the economic recovery is finally on solid

The University of Michigan said its index of consumer sentiment for October
rose to 89.6 from 87.7, the first increase in three months and in line with
forecasts. Better economic news and tantalizing signs of job growth seem to
have lifted consumers' spirits.

"The general economy does have a greater tone of stability and strength,"
said Pierre Ellis, senior international economist at Decision Economics in
New York.

"The bounce back was certainly encouraged by the visible improvement in the
labor market and the stock market," he said.

U.S. Treasury prices kept their firmer tone after the morning's data and the
dollar strengthened on the jobs reading. The main U.S. stock market indexes
remained marginally higher.

Separately, the National Association of Purchasing Management-Chicago
business barometer rose to 55.0 from an unexpectedly weak 51.2 in September.
The figure was close to forecasts but included an unexpected surge in the
employment component to 53.1 from 45.3.

That raised hopes the national payrolls report for October, due next week,
could show another moderate gain after September rose for the first time in
eight months. Preliminary forecasts are for a rise of 50,000, after a gain
of 57,000 in September.

Even though the economy has gathered steam in recent months, the labor
market has lagged. More than 2.7 million jobs have been lost in the past
three years.

"This is the same reluctant hiring we saw in 1992, but it will transform
into a more optimistic trend if the economy does not falter in the next
couple of quarters," said FTN Financial chief economist Christopher Low.

And the Federal Reserve (news - web sites) has said plainly it has no
intention of raising interest rates until it is sure the economy is firing
on all cylinders, and the risk of inflation falling has been removed. This
week the Fed voted to keep its short-term interest rate target at a 45-year
low of 1.0 percent.


The U.S. economy posted its strongest growth in nearly two decades in the
third quarter, at an annual rate of 7.2 percent, fueled largely by consumer
spending, the government said on Thursday. But as the stimulus of tax cuts
fades and jobs remain scarce, some analysts worry about how the economy will
fare next year.

Economists expect that consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of
economic growth, will inevitably slow in the fourth quarter, as the lift
from tax cuts and mortgage refinancing fades. But the hope is that business
investment and inventory rebuilding will be enough to keep overall growth at
a robust pace in the current quarter .

On that score, the Chicago-area report showed a further sharp drop in
inventories, which suggests businesses are not keeping up with demand and
will have to boost production in coming months to restock their shelves.

Earlier on Friday, the Commerce Department (news - web sites) said personal
spending fell 0.3 percent in September after upwardly revised gains of 1.1
percent in August and 1.0 percent in July, showing consumer spending losing
momentum as the third quarter ended.

Adjusted for inflation, spending was off a sharper 0.6 percent.

Much of the slowdown was anticipated because auto and retail sales weakened
in September, according to reports already released.

"Consumer spending should be down noticeably this quarter to about 2-2.5
percent, compared to 6.6 percent last quarter," said Deutsche Bank economist
Joseph LaVorgna, adding that slower auto sales will likely be a major

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