OPERATIONS

U.S. consumer confidence holds at recession levels

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Washington, D.C. — A report released Thursday said that consumer confidence in the U.S. was little changed for a second week, holding at a level typically reached during past recessions.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index was at minus 50.3 in the period ended Dec. 4, after a reading of minus 50.2 the prior week. The gauge has been at minus 50 or worse for 11 of the past 12 weeks.

An unexpected decline in unemployment last month coupled with growing payrolls may be preventing household confidence from sinking even deeper. “Consumer confidence appears to be stabilizing, albeit near historically low levels,” said Joseph Brusuelas, a senior economist at Bloomberg L.P. in New York. “However, that stabilization is quite tenuous.”

The Bloomberg comfort index, which began in December 1985, has averaged minus 46.8 this year compared with minus 45.7 for all of 2010 and minus 47.9 in 2009, the worst full-year reading on record, the report showed.

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Consumer report: Holiday retail season starts strong, led by personal electronics

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Yonkers, N.Y. — Despite flagging consumer confidence, December’s Consumer Reports Index, a measure of overall consumer financial health, showed that the holiday season is off to a good start, with excellent activity in November and the prospect of a strong December.

The Past 30-Day Retail Index for December was 13.9, up from 12.4 a year ago, and planned spending for December was also strong at 12.7 compared to 11.8 last year. Among the categories comprising the Retail Index, the largest gains were in personal electronics.

Though there has been no improvement in Consumer Sentiment or in the financial difficulties faced by consumers, overall, measures are fairly stable.

"It may be this relative stability in contrast to the gloom of the past several years, that is causing consumers to cast off the restraint of the seasons gone by and ‘celebrate’ with some serious shopping," said Ed Farrell, director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

December’s Consumer Reports Sentiment Index, which measures how consumers are doing financially versus a year ago, was unchanged at 45.4 from 45.0 the prior month.

The Consumer Reports Employment Index declined to 49.6 from 50.6 last month, with past 30-day job losses (5.7%) outpacing job gains (4.9%). This setback reversed three straight periods of an improving employment picture. Households earning $50,000 or more remained in positive territory (over 50), while those in households earning less than $50,000 lost ground (49.0).

Taking a closer look at the categories comprising the Consumer Reports Past 30-Day Retail Index, the gain in November spending was the result of an increase in personal electronics (31.4%), up from 21.2% last month.

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Lowe’s to open new customer support center in New Mexico

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Mooresville, N.C. — Lowe’s said Thursday it will open a new Customer Support Center in Albuquerque, N.M., in first quarter 2012.

The center is estimated to create 250 jobs by March and a total of 600 jobs by the end of 2013.

Lowe’s said it plans to invest more than $15 million to renovate leased space in a 65,000-sq.-ft. building which, when complete, will provide multiple support functions including customer care, store support, internet sales support and repair services for customers. The new center is intended to complement the company’s existing Customer Support Center in Wilkesboro, N.C.

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