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Consumer confidence lowest since recession Latest reading bodes ill for the holidays

Americans say they feel worse about the economy than they have since the depths of the Great Recession. And it's a bad time for a bad mood because households are starting to make their holiday budgets.

It might not be all doom and gloom, though. Sometimes what people say about the economy and how they behave differ.

Consumer confidence fell in October to the lowest since March 2009, reflecting the big hit that the stock market took this summer and frustration with an economic recovery that doesn't really feel like one.

The Conference Board, a private research group, said its index of consumer sentiment came in at 39.8, down about six points from September and seven shy of what economists were expecting.

The reading is still well above where the index stood 2 1/2 years ago, at 26.9. But it's not even within shouting distance of 90, what it takes to signal that the economy is on solid footing.

Economists watch consumer confidence closely because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity. The index measures how shoppers feel about business conditions, the job market and the next six months.

The latest reading comes exactly two months before Christmas, with retailers preparing for the holiday shopping season, their busiest. Almost twice as many people now expect a pay cut over the next six months as expect a raise.

The percentage of Americans who plan to buy a major appliance in the next six months, such as a television or washing machine, rose to 46 percent, up from 41 percent. Exactly 50 percent plan to take a vacation in the next six months, up from 47 percent.

Mark Vitner, senior U.S. economist at Wells Fargo, said he will probably trim his forecast for holiday revenue in the retail industry based on Tuesday's figure.

He said the gloomy headlines about the economy may lead people to say they feel worse about things than their own situations would suggest. They might have a good job and stable finances, for example, but still report feeling sour.

But the decline is "too significant to get away from it," he said. "Consumers are losing hope that strong growth is around the corner."

Higher earners are also starting to lose confidence, a bad sign because they account for a disproportionate amount of spending. The confidence index for people making more than $50,000 has dropped six months in a row.

The index is based on a survey conducted Oct. 1-13 of 500 randomly selected people nationwide.

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