Consumer Reports index finds household financial difficulty rising

YONKERS, N.Y. -- Consumer Reports announced that its Trouble Tracker Index has climbed for the third straight month to 58.7. The index, which tracks the depth and breadth of financial difficulties among households, has climbed up from 54.2 last month and from 53.4 one year ago.

The gains in retail activity coupled with increased financial difficulty may lead to a credit crunch for some consumers, especially as missing payments on major bills (9.7%) or missing a mortgage payment (3.2%) are up when compared to a year ago. Also, compared with last month, the number of consumers facing negative changes to their credit card terms (e.g., interest rates, penalty fees, credit limit) was up.

The Consumer Reports Employment Index shows no sign of improvement as it remained unchanged from the prior month at 49.2 and on par with a year prior (49), Consumer Reports reported. In the past 30 days, 6.7% of those surveyed have lost their job, but only 5.2% have started a new job.

"February's Employment Index is indicative of an economy shedding more jobs than it is creating and this kept sentiment in negative territory, despite other measures that have shown gains," said Ed Farrell, a director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center.  "While the share of those starting a new job was up nominally from January, growth is insufficient to seriously address the expanding pool of unemployed or fresh job seekers."

Consumer Reports' findings may damper some of the optimism felt in recent months. January saw strong growth across most retail categories, continuing the positive performance from fourth quarter 2010, albeit at a slightly slower pace, according to MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, a report on national retail and services sales that is based on aggregate sales activity in the MasterCard payments network and survey-based estimates for other payment forms, such as cash and check.

 

“A combination of rising consumer demand and strong pricing continued to drive retail sales in January,” said Michael McNamara, VP research and analysis for MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse. “Although less robust, the trends we observed were similar to those recorded in the fourth quarter of 2010. Most sectors continued to post positive year-over-year results during the month despite consumers taking a pause in spending and repeated snow storms affecting the East Coast.”

However, if consumers continue to feel the credit crunch, they may be forced to start saving more and spending smarter, which may be a gain for value retailers.