Despite rising gas prices and falling home prices, American consumers are actually becoming more upbeat. According to the Conference Board, its consumer confidence index rebounded to 108 from an upwardly revised 106.3 (previously 104.0) last month. Consumers' assessment of their present situation, including the job market, rose to 136.1 from 133.5, and the expectations index increased to 89.2 from 88.2.
Indeed, almost all of the various ways the Conference Board slices consumer confidence show we're generally more upbeat than a year ago. As Mike Englund of Action Economics puts it: "It appears that consumers are continuing to show none of the pessimism that some feared would emerge following last year's midyear growth slowdown, with ensuing waves of concerns about the auto sector . . . and the subprime market following the February stock market correction."
And then you have the ultimate index of consumer confidence, the stock market. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is already up 7 percent this year, meaning that richer stock portfolios are helping offset the paper losses from housing.
How interesting, then, that Americans' assessment of the job President Bush is doing with the economy is so negative. An American Research Group poll completed last week found that 64 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Bush is handling the economy, 3 percentage points worse than a year ago. Clearly, Bush is getting little credit for the more than five-year-old economic expansion or the shrinking budget deficit, which may actually turn into a surplus next year the way tax revenue has been pouring in.
The same poll also found that 61 percent of respondents thought the economy was "good," "very good," or excellent. That's up from 52 percent a year ago. Washington insiders have been marveling at the skills of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, but it looks as if even he hasn't been able to sell Americans on the existence of the "Bush boom."