The Conference Board said its consumer-confidence index declined in December, as a sub-gauge on expectations plunged to 66.5 – the lowest reading since November 2011 – from 80.9 a month earlier. Blamed were uncertainties over the fiscal cliff.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index had also declined slightly in November. The Index now stands at 65.1 (1985=100), down from 71.5 in November. The Expectations Index declined sharply to 66.5 from 80.9. The Present Situation Index increased to 62.8 from 57.4 last month. The findings more or less gelled with findings released Dec. 21 by the Thomson/Reuters-University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers. That Sentiment Index was 72.9 in December 2012, down from 82.7 in November, but just above last December’s 69.9.   

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was December 13.

Says Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board: Consumers expectations retreated sharply in December resulting in a decline in the overall Index. The sudden turnaround in expectations was most likely caused by uncertainty surrounding the oncoming fiscal cliff. A similar decline in expectations was experienced in August of 2011 during the debt ceiling discussions. While consumers are quite negative about the short-term outlook, they are more upbeat than last month about current business and labor market conditions.

Consumers assessment of current conditions improved in December. Those stating business conditions are good rose to 17.1 percent from 14.6 percent, while those stating business conditions are bad decreased to 27.3 percent from 31.2 percent. Consumers appraisal of the labor market was mixed. Those saying jobs are plentiful edged down to 10.3 percent from 11.0 percent, while those saying jobs are hard to get declined to 35.6 percent from 37.4 percent.

Consumers optimism about the short-term outlook plummeted in December. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months declined to 17.6 percent from 21.3 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen increased to 21.5 percent from 15.8 percent.

Consumers outlook for the labor market also turned more pessimistic. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead declined to 17.0 percent from 19.5 percent, while those expecting fewer jobs increased to 27.3 percent from 21.2 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes was virtually unchanged at 15.4 percent. However, those expecting their incomes to decline rose to 18.7 percent from 15.6 percent.