Consumer Sentiment Falls to Lowest Level in 2 Years

U.S. consumer sentiment fell in July to its lowest point in more than two years, as anxieties over stagnant wages and rising unemployment deepened, a survey released Friday showed.

Concerns about the U.S. debt crisis also loomed large, as lawmakers in Washington continue to wrangle over plans to raise the debt ceiling before the U.S. government runs out of money to pay its bills on Tuesday.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's final reading on the overall index of consumer sentiment came in at 63.7, down from 71.5 in June, the lowest reading since March, 2009. That is just below the preliminary July figure of 63.8 and the median forecast of 64.0 among economists polled by Reuters.

``While consumers may not fully understand the debate about the federal debt, they do understand the meaning of the oft repeated warnings of 'dire economic consequences,''' Director Richard Curtin said in a statement.

Confidence in government economic policies reached a new low under the Obama administration.

The survey's gauge of consumer expectations slipped to 56.0, on par with economists' predictions but below June's 64.8. Curtin added that the expectations index is at levels consistent with recession, but has not been down long enough to signal one definitively.

The survey's barometer of current economic conditions was 75.8 in July, down from 82.0 in June, and below a forecast of 76.3.

Just one in ten consumers expected to earn more money in the year ahead and twice as many consumers reported hearing about new job losses compared with job gains in July.

``The absence of positive long term financial expectations has turned consumer resilience into consumer fragility at the first sign of adversity,'' Curtin said.

The survey's one-year inflation expectation fell to 3.4 percent from 3.8 percent in June, while the five-to-10-year inflation outlook dropped slightly to 2.9 percent in July compared with 3.0 percent in June.