Survey: U.S. consumers more upbeat about finances, job prospects

Schaumburg, Ill. -- Survey results released Tuesday by Nielsen found that nearly half (49%) of U.S. online consumers believe their personal finance prospects will be good or excellent over the next 12 months.

According to Nielsen’s Q4 global consumer confidence findings, the quarter’s results were the highest for 2011 and a six percentage point increase from Q3 2011. The number of U.S. respondents who described their job prospects as “bad” dropped from 28% to 19% between the third quarter and fourth quarter of last year as well.
 
Overall, the U.S. consumer confidence index rose six points from 77 to 83 for the fourth quarter, in a quarter that saw 60% of participating markets register index declines. The Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions tracks consumer confidence, major concerns and spending intentions among more than 28,000 Internet consumers in 56 countries. Consumer confidence levels above and below a baseline of 100 indicate degrees of optimism and pessimism. The latest round of the survey was conducted between Nov. 23 and Dec. 9, 2011.

Almost one third (32%) of U.S. respondents reported having no spare cash in the fourth quarter. For those with plans for spare cash, savings (34%) and paying off debts (31%) scored highest with respondents.  Investments ranked last as an option for spare cash. Retirement and stocks/mutual funds each earned only 8% of respondents’ votes.

“As it relates to the economy, the number one concern for consumers is jobs. Recent gains in the U.S. labor market are positively impacting sentiment, but the number of Americans still unemployed or struggling to make ends meet will be continue to be a drag on spending in 2012,” said James Russo, VP global consumer insights, Nielsen. “Other macro trends aren’t helping either, including a weak housing sector, elevated commodity prices and slow wage growth. However, if the economy can sustain growth of 250,000 jobs per month, it will lower the unemployment rate and not only impact sentiment but spending.”

The survey found cutting back on gas and electricity (64%), new clothes (58%) and out-of-home entertainment (56%) were U.S. consumers’ top three strategies for saving money. When asked what they will continue to do when economic conditions improve, consumers’ top three answers were: cut back on gas/electricity (54%); cut back on take-home meals (34%) and switch to cheaper grocery brands (29%).

Food quality at odds with opinions of business

It's a good thing that Americans may think lower priced food is also good quality. Xavier University's American Dream Composite Index results show that 85% of Americans are not dissatisfied with the quality of food they consume. Interestingly, only 16% believe that businesses are concerned with their welfare. This indicates a clear opportunity for the food industry going forward. While businesses appear to be offering consumers the food choices they desire, they have not been able to capture their trust.