Consumer sentiment posted a surprisingly sharp fall in early November, hitting its lowest in two years as high energy costs and falling home prices pummeled confidence, a survey released on Friday showed.
The bleak sentiment could also be complicated by a spike in price expectations, which may make an inflation-wary Federal Reserve less likely to cut interest rates to shore up the consumer-driven economy.
The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said its gauge of consumer sentiment fell to 75.0 from October's final result of 80.9.
This was well below economists' median expectation of 80.0 in a poll conducted by Reuters and was the lowest since 74.2 in October 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Consumer confidence sank to its lowest level in two years. Nearly the entire early November decline was among lower-income households due to surging complaints about high gas prices, said a statement accompanying the survey results.
The survey result could be an ominous sign for the economy heading into the key holiday shopping season since consumer sentiment is often seen as a proxy for future spending, which accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. economy.
The survey's gauge of current economic conditions tumbled to 91.0 -- its worst since March 2003 -- from 97.6 in October.
The outlook for the future also looked grim, with consumer expectations slumping to a two-year low of 64.7 from 70.1 last month.
The survey's gauge of one-year inflation expectations jumped to 3.4 percent -- its highest since a similar reading in July 2007 -- after holding at 3.1 for the previous two months. Five-year inflation expectations rose to 2.9 percent from 2.8.
On Wall Street, stocks (.DJI: Quote, Profile, Research) briefly extended losses in the wake of the release before recovering some lost ground. The dollar weakened against the yen. Government bonds, a safe haven for investors during economic weakness, briefly rose back toward session highs after the data.
(Reporting by Burton Frierson; Editing by James Dalgleish)