Consumer sentiment falls to five-month low in March: survey

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Consumer sentiment fell to its lowest level in five months in early March as gas prices rose, a survey released on Friday showed.

Even so, buying plans were largely unchanged and although the rate of real consumer spending will diminish, the report does not indicate a renewed downturn on the horizon, the latest consumer survey from Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan said.

The preliminary March reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment came in at 68.2, down from 77.5 in February. That was the lowest level since October 2010 and was well off the median forecast of 76.5 among economists polled by Reuters.

The survey's barometer of current economic conditions was at 83.6, down from 86.9 the month before and below a forecast of 86.0. The survey's gauge of consumer expectations tumbled to 58.3 from 71.6, the lowest level since March 2009.

Inflation concerns were still high with the survey's one-year inflation expectation rising to 4.6 percent from 3.4 percent in February, the highest since August 2008. The survey's five-to-10-year inflation outlook rose to 3.2 percent from 2.9 percent.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)