Survey: Consumer confidence gets August boost

Richard Curtin, chief economist for Surveys of Consumers, said the looming fiscal cliff — the year-end combination of tax increases and automatic spending cuts — was only adding to the uncertainty in the country. 

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“Despite the August gain, confidence has been in a holding pattern during the past few months,” said Curtin, who added that consumers also face a hike in their payroll tax rate at the end of the year, unless Washington acts.  

“Aside from the past few years, the average level of consumer confidence in 2012 was lower than in any other year since 1982.”

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan numbers come as other recent surveys found decreases in consumer confidence. The Conference Board’s release this week, for instance, reported the sharpest drop in confidence in almost a year. 

The Commerce Department also reported this week that the economy grew at a 1.7 percent clip in the second quarter, more quickly than first estimated — but not enough to put a serious dent in the unemployment rate. 

For their part, analysts had expected Friday’s numbers to come in pretty close to the mid-August figure of 73.6.

Voters’ sense of where the economy is and is heading is also expected to play a large role in this November’s election. 

With the unemployment rate stubbornly remaining above 8 percent, Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee, tried to woo voters unhappy with President Obama’s handling of the economy in his Thursday acceptance speech. 

Obama and Democrats, meanwhile, have made the case that Republican policies would mostly benefit the wealthy and would send the country in the wrong direction. 

The latest consumer confidence numbers also came the same day that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in a widely anticipated speech, suggested the central bank was ready to help stimulate the recovery if the economy doesn’t get stronger in the coming months.