After reaching its highest point since the beginning of the recession, 46.7 in June, the RBC Consumer Outlook Index retreated by three points to 43.7 in July.
RBC also found that Americans plan to continue their frugal ways, according to a survey of 1,000 people, with 89% saying they spent either the same amount in the first half of 2011 as they did last year (42%) or that they spent less (47%).
As for the rest of 2011, 93% plan to spend the same amount (43%) or even less (50%).
Twenty-eight percent said they switched to lower-priced stores during the recession and are still shopping there. Only eight percent of those who began shopping at discount stores have returned to their regular shopping patterns. Twenty-seven percent have remained loyal to their preferred stores, and 37% said they have always shopped at discounters.
“The overall trend in consumer confidence since it bottomed out early in 2009 has been positive, but the improvements have been erratic,” said RBC Capital Markets Chief U.S. Economist Tom Porcelli. “After a solid rally last month, the RBC Consumer Outlook Index for July saw across-the-board declines, with decreases in all of the sub-indices, indicating the continued fragility of the national psyche. Americans continue to doubt the overall health of the economy, and we are unlikely to see a sustained, robust rebound in confidence until they have enough positive news to change their minds.”
Nonetheless, 67% of consumers expect gas prices to rise in the next 12 months, the lowest reading since the survey started asking this question. And 38% said they have had personal experiences with job losses, on par with the reading in June. This is the lowest it has been since RBC began asking this question in 2008.
The RBC Jobs Sub-Index fell 1.9 points to 52.8, below its historical mean of 53.9. This decline was driven by a slight decrease in the number of consumers (40%) who do not expect that they or someone they know will lose their jobs in the next six months. Forty-four percent were confident in job security in June.
The RBC Current Conditions Sub-Index also fell, by 3.4 points, to 33.4, with 49% of consumers saying they are less comfortable making a major purchase, such as a home or car, than they were six months ago.
Likewise, the RBC Investments Sub-Index also fell, by 4.7 points, to 36.3, with a mere 14% of Americans saying now is a good time to invest in the stock market. Fifty-one percent said it is not a good time to invest.
And the RBC Consumer Expectations Sub-Index dipped down 3.5 points to 53.1, with only 23% of Americans expecting their personal finances to be in better shape in six months’ time, down from 30% in June.
The outlook on the economy over the next year is mixed, however, with 28% expecting it will get worse and 25% expecting it will get better. Sixty-three percent say the country is on the wrong track; only 37% think it is headed in the right direction.