Economic Report: U.S. consumer sentiment deteriorates in late December

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The numbers: The second and final reading of the consumer sentiment index from the University of Michigan fell to 80.7 in December from an initial 81.4 earlier in the month. The index remained higher than the 76.9 reading in November.

Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast the index would slip to 81.

What happened: An index that measures current conditions rose to 90 in the final December reading from 87 last month.

The index that measures expectations for the next six months rose to 74.6 from 70.5 in November.

Overall, the index remains almost 20 points below its pre-pandemic level.

Big picture: Consumer confidence slipped in last few weeks as it became apparent that COVID-19 cases were spiking after the Thanksgiving holiday. The grim reality dampened the initial burst of confidence earlier in the month on the news that a vaccine for COVID-19 had been developed.

On Tuesday, the Conference Board reported that its consumer confidence index fell to 88.6 December from 92.9 in November.

The improvement over November was largely due to Democrats expecting conditions to improve. This was offset somewhat by a gloomier outlook from Republicans.

Another growing divide is between households able to work from home compared with those who have lost jobs in the service sector.

The financial relief package passed Monday by Congress may boost confidence in January but the outlook for the package has been thrown into some doubt after President Donald Trump called it a “disgrace,” suggesting he might not sign it into law.

Market reaction: Stocks opened higher on Wednesday on higher durable goods orders for November. The S&P 500 index SPX, +0.46% was up 12.31 points.

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