Consumer confidence takes sharp hit in March as coronavirus concerns rattle outlook.

Among the least surprising reports in recent days is the Conference Board’s finding that consumer confidence fell sharply in March. 

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index® declined sharply in March, following an increase in February. The Index now stands at 120.0 (1985=100), down from 132.6 in February. The Present Situation Index – based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions – decreased from 169.3 to 167.7. The Expectations Index – based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business and labor market conditions – declined from 108.1 last month to 88.2 this month.

The more ominous interpretation of the data.

“Consumer confidence declined sharply in March due to a deterioration in the short-term outlook,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “The Present Situation Index remained relatively strong, reflective of an economy that was on solid footing, and prior to the recent surge in unemployment claims. However, the intensification of COVID-19 and extreme volatility in the financial markets have increased uncertainty about the outlook for the economy and jobs. March’s decline in confidence is more in line with a severe contraction – rather than a temporary shock – and further declines are sure to follow.”

This survey precedes Congressional passage of the stimulus package, as the Associated Press reports,

The steep decline in March reflected rising worries about the coronavirus during the survey period of March 1-18. Economists say confidence is sure to fall further as the virus’ impact takes a bigger toll on the economy.

Ideally, as consumers see money flowing to households and businesses, fears  will calm some, but the uncertainty about the duration of the public health crisis remains. T