28 August 2012 11:18

Citi Survey Reveals Americans’ Economic Outlook Reaches Highest Point


A nationwide survey issued by Citi and conducted by Hart Research Associates revealed that Americans are more optimistic about economic conditions than in any quarter since the survey began in September 2009. The Citi Economic Pulse, a quarterly measure of Americans' attitudes toward the economy, remains in negative territory but rose to a new high of -4 in Q3 2012 after hitting its lowest point of -17 in Q3 2011. Unlike 2010 and 2011, when the Pulse advanced in the first quarter only to turn downward again later in the year, attitudes have continued to improve in 2012.

"Consumer confidence has risen significantly in the last 12 months, and Americans are now more optimistic than at any point since we introduced the Citi Economic Pulse three years ago," said Michelle Peluso, Chief Global Consumer Marketing and Internet Officer, Citi. "Whether or not that momentum will persist or fade is very much an open question, but this latest reading is an encouraging sign."

Increase in Economic Outlook Reflects Decrease in Negativity

In general, the third quarter Pulse finds less of an increase in positive views of the economy, but rather a notable decrease in negative views. For example, 75 percent of consumers rate employment opportunities in their area as only fair or poor, which is 10 points lower than a year ago (85 percent). In the same vein, 19 percent say local employment opportunities are excellent or good, which is six points higher than a year ago.

Overall, 28 percent of consumers rate the current condition of their local economy as excellent or good, which is a five-point increase since Q3 2011, while 70 percent rate their local economy as only fair or poor, a two-point decline since March 2012. In the coming year, 51 percent expect conditions to get a least somewhat better. This is a 10-point improvement since August 2011 when only 41 percent were optimistic. Interestingly, the greatest recent shift in consumer sentiment is being seen among the youngest and lowest-income groups, who typically are more sensitive to local economic conditions.

Consumers Gain Control over Finances as Sacrifices Wane

Over the past four years following the economic downturn, Americans have dramatically altered the way they save and spend, but within the past few months there are signs of another change as consumers say they are getting better control of their finances and fewer report making sacrifices because of the economy.

When given a list of possible changes to their saving and spending habits, more than three quarters (76 percent) of Americans report that they are getting better control of their finances or putting themselves on a budget. While 60 percent of Americans are currently cutting down on credit card purchases, that marks an eight-point decrease from November 2011. There is a similar drop in the number of consumers who say they have been eating out less often, from 67 percent who said so in August 2011 to 58 percent in the current survey. Some Americans are still forced to consider drastic financial decisions due to the slow economy: 29 percent are working longer hours to make ends meet, and 24 percent are doing jobs they would not choose in a better economy but each of these decreased five points since November 2011.

Mobile and Online Banking Numbers Climb - More than Just a Youth Movement

Internet-enabled mobile devices are more commonplace than ever for Americans, with just under half (49 percent) saying they own a smartphone or tablet. The majority of those owners (64 percent) use their mobile device to manage their finances.

Younger Americans, ages 18 to 34, are more likely to use online or mobile banking, with 81 percent of computer owners saying they manage their finances on a computer and a majority (72 percent) of mobile device owners saying they bank on their mobile devices. However, the findings show that older Americans are embracing mobile and online banking as well. Sixty-seven percent of 35- to 49-year-olds, 53 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds and almost half (48 percent) of 65-year-olds and over who own a mobile device are already currently using their mobile devices to manage their finances.

"Nearly a third of Americans are already using a smartphone or tablet to manage their money, and today older generations are increasingly accounting for the growth in mobile adoption," Citi Managing Director and Head of Consumer Internet and Mobile Banking North America Tracey Weber. "Even those who have mobile devices but don't engage in mobile banking say they are interested in trying some of the new mobile offerings like mobile-to-mobile payments and mobile check deposit, so we expect those numbers to continue to grow."

While only one in 10 (11 percent) of mobile device owners currently use "tap and go" payment technology, nearly half (48 percent) are interested in adopting the application in lieu of cash or credit cards. In addition, 41 percent are interested in mobile-to-mobile payments and 45 percent are interested in mobile check deposit.

Survey Methodology

Hart Research Associates conducted the telephone survey of 2,001 adults from July 31 to August 7, 2012. The overall statistical margin of sampling error is ±2.19 percentage points for the main sample and is higher among subgroups.

Pulse Methodology

The Citi Economic Pulse is calculated by subtracting negative responses to each item from the positive responses for 8 Pulse items, divided by 8. The 8 Pulse items include: current condition of the economy in area; business conditions in area over the next twelve months; current employment opportunities in area; buying climate for big ticket items; personal financial situation compared to a year ago; outlook on personal financial situation for the next twelve months; comfort with current level of savings; and comfort with current level of debt. The Pulse scale can range from +100 (if every respondent gave positive response to each of the 8 questions) to -100 (if all respondents expressed consistently negative views).

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