Yesterday's Conference Board Consumer Confidence number for February seems to have been lost in the news flow, but with two notable exceptions it was the lowest on record (the series began in 1967,1985=100). The seven months from October 2008 until April 2009 were all weaker--in order beginning in October: 38.8, 44.7, 38.6, 37.4, 25.3, 26.9, and 40.8. Job losses averaged 685,000 per month and included the highest number lost for the period at 779,000 in January of last year. In December 1974 the Conference Board also recorded a lower confidence number at 43.2. That month the economy shed 602,000 jobs, also towards the end of a severe recession. Job losses continued to be heavy for four more months into 1975.
The puzzle in this February's number is that the worst of the jobs losses are well behind the economy. Some commentators have blamed the severe winter weather in much of the country for depressing spirits, but it snows every year. More blame can probably be placed on the lack of job creation this time around. In 1974 from the peak of job losses in December the economy had begun to produce jobs only five months later in May 1975. June 1975 recorded another loss, but from July on the economy averaged 250,000 new jobs per month for the rest of the year. It has already been more than a year from the peak job loss in this recession last January. The extreme duration more than anything else is probably what is weighing on consumer sentiment.