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US consumers lose confidence as fiscal cliff nears

Friday - 12/28/2012, 4:42am  ET

In this Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, photo, a couple descend an escalator while shopping at an H& M store, in Atlanta. U.S. consumer confidence tumbled in December, driven lower by fears of sharp tax increases and government spending cuts set to take effect next week. The Conference Board said Thursday that its consumer confidence index fell this month to 65.1, down from 71.5 in November. That's second straight decline and the lowest level since August. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

PAUL WISEMAN
AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumers peering over the "fiscal cliff" don't like what they see.

Fears of sharp tax increases and government spending cuts set to take effect next week sent consumer confidence tumbling in December to its lowest level since August.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its consumer confidence index fell for the second straight month in December to 65.1, down from 71.5 in November.

The survey showed consumers' outlook for the next six months deteriorated to its lowest level since 2011 -- a signal to Lynn Franco, the board's director of economic indicators, that consumers are worried about the tax hikes and spending cuts that take effect Jan. 1 if the White House and Congress can't reach a budget deal.

Earlier this week a report showed consumers held back shopping this holiday season, another indication of their concerns about possible tax increases.

The December drop in confidence "is obvious confirmation that a sudden and serious deterioration in hopes for the future took place in December -- presumably reflecting concern about imminent 'fiscal cliff' tax increases," said Pierre Ellis, an economist with Decision Economics.

The decline in confidence comes at a critical time when the economy is showing signs of improvement elsewhere.

A recovery in housing market is looking more sustainable. On Thursday, the government said new-home sales increased in November at the fastest seasonally adjusted annual pace in 2
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