Looking ahead, consumers have less confidence

A man (left) selected flowers at the Flower Market in Los Angeles. The Conference Board said consumer confidence slipped slightly in February from January.
Nick Ut/Associated Press/File
A man (left) selected flowers at the Flower Market in Los Angeles. The Conference Board said consumer confidence slipped slightly in February from January.

WASHINGTON — US consumer confidence fell slightly in February over concerns about the near-term outlook for business conditions and jobs.

The Conference Board said Tuesday its confidence index dipped to 78.1 this month, down from 79.4 in January.

‘‘Consumers believe the economy has improved, but they do not foresee it gaining considerable momentum in the months ahead,’’ said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board.


Consumer sentiment is closely watched for indications about how it will affect consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.

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Views about current conditions increased for the fourth consecutive month and now stand at the highest level in almost six years. But the index that tracks consumer expectations dipped slightly, pulling the overall reading down.

In the expectations category, consumer views about the labor market were a bit more pessimistic than they had been, possibly reflecting two months of weak job gains.

Employers added a tepid 113,000 jobs in January after a lackluster gain of 75,000 in December. That was far below last year’s monthly average of 194,000.

There was solid hiring in manufacturing and construction last month, however, and this has contributed to optimism that the weaker job growth was a temporary lull and not the start of another swoon.


The Federal Reserve at its December and January meetings trimmed its monthly bond purchases and indicated that it believes the economy is gaining momentum.

Many private analysts are forecasting that the overall economy will grow at around 3 percent this year, up a full percentage point from 2013 growth. The federal government is expected to be less of a drag on activity this year. Tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts trimmed growth by an estimated 1.75 percentage points in 2013.

As the drag from the government lessens, the expectation is that economic growth and job creation will pick up, giving a boost to confidence and consumer spending, which will help drive more growth.

In Massachusetts, a quarterly consumer confidence index fell slightly.

The Mass Insight Global Partnerships, an organization that seeks to shape public policy around economic development, said its reading was 82 for the most recent quarter, the same as for the comparable quarter a year ago but down 4 points from the previous quarter. The index is generally patterned after the national index.


“These data suggest that Bay State residents are again exhibiting the ‘seesaw’ pattern in attitudes that we have witnessed in recent years,” said Mass Insight chief executive William Guenther in a statement. “There is not enough consistent positive news to boost consumer confidence, and unemployment is already affecting 30 percent of households, 40 percent in the 18-30 demographic.”

Chris Reidy of the Globe’s staff contributed to this report.