NEW YORK U.S. consumer sentiment declined slightly in early March, with Americans less positive about the job outlook, a survey released on Friday showed.
The reading, however, stayed close to its six-month average, and was significantly above the year-ago level, according to Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's Surveys of Consumers.
The preliminary March reading for the surveys' overall index on consumer sentiment was 72.5, down from 73.6 where it ended in February, and below the 73.6 forecast by analysts polled by Reuters.
In early March, consumers were expecting no change in the national rate of unemployment, which stands at 9.7 percent, for the rest of 2010, and were losing confidence in help from government economic policies, the survey showed.
"(The sentiment reading) really has shown very little variation over the past several months, and that's mostly because consumers no longer fear unemployment will go up any more, but they don't expect it to improve very much in the year ahead," Richard Curtin, director of the surveys said in an interview with Reuters Insider.
The March reading was just below the six-month average of 72 and up strongly from 57.3 in March 2009.
The consumer survey data followed a report from the U.S. government showing retail sales rose unexpectedly in February, which analysts viewed as underscoring hopes for a sustainable economic recovery.
The survey's gauge of current economic conditions fell to 80.8 from February's final reading of 81.8. That was also down from analysts' forecast for 82.0.
The survey's barometer of consumer expectations weakened to 67.2 at the beginning of March from 68.4 in February. It fell short of the 68.0 forecast by analysts.
The index of consumers' 12-month economic outlook fell to 74 from 80 in February.
The survey's 1-year inflation expectation index rose to 2.8 in early March from 2.7 in February, while the five-to-10-year inflation measure was steady at 2.7 from the month before.
(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)