AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2 Still, Franco said, consumers rate current conditions favorably. The Expectations Index, which measures consumers’ outlook over the next six months, fell to 83.7 in May from 92.3 in April. In fact, the proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to rise in the months ahead fell to the lowest level in three years, the survey reported. The Present Situation Index, which measures how shoppers feel now about economic conditions, slipped to 132.5 from 136.2. Economists closely monitor consumer confidence because consumer spending accounts for two thirds of all U.S. economic activity. Souring confidence, along with a jump in oil prices and a lackluster sales report from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., sent stocks plunging Tuesday. The Dow Jones industrial plummeted 184.18 points, or 1.63 percent, to 11,094.43. The setback in confidence in May – while anticipated amid higher energy costs – is discouraging for retailers, which have seen sales slow during the month. In fact, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, expects May sales at stores open at least a year to rise a modest 2.3 percent, at the low end of expectations. It cited high gasoline prices as a big factor. Wal-Mart and other major merchants are slated to report monthly results Thursday. NEW YORK – Consumer confidence soured in May, as Americans fretted about the overall economy’s future and the job outlook. The drop in a widely watched barometer of sentiment was the steepest since hurricanes pummeled the Gulf Coast last year, increasing worries about the health of consumer spending. The New York-based Conference Board said Tuesday its consumer confidence index fell almost seven points to 103.2, down from the revised 109.8 in April. Still, May’s reading was better than the 100.9 expected by analysts. The decline stalled a rebound that began in November in the aftermath of last year’s Gulf of Mexico hurricanes, which sent the index down 18 points in September. The exception was a dip in February when short-lived pessimism over the job market hurt consumer sentiment. “Consumer confidence, which reached a four-year high in April, lost ground in May,” said Lynn Franco, director of the New York-based Conference Board Consumer Research Center, in a statement. “Apprehension about the short-term outlook for the economy, the labor market and consumers’ earning potential has driven the Expectations Index down to levels not seen since the aftermath of the hurricanes last summer.” While shoppers have remained resilient in the face of higher gasoline prices, which have been hovering around $3 per gallon, the question is what will it take for consumers to dramatically cut their spending. An AP-Ipsos poll in early May found 70 percent of Americans expect that increases in gas prices will cause financial hardship over the next six months – up from 51 percent a year earlier. The national telephone survey of 1,000 adults had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points. So far, “there is a lot more worry about higher gasoline prices than there is action,” said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wachovia Securities in Charlotte, N.C. “Higher gasoline prices have certainly eaten into purchasing power, but spending is still barreling forward.” But Vitner noted that anxiety is building among consumers about what higher interest rates and higher energy costs will mean to the economy. In a worrisome report issued last week by the Federal Reserve, core inflation, which excludes food and energy, rose 2.1 percent in April, the biggest gain in 13 months. That’s making economists nervous that high increases in oil prices are now expanding into other areas of the economy. And the Fed, which has been on an interest-hike campaign over the past two years, is being confronted with the challenge of keeping inflation in check without slowing the economy and hurting the housing market further.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!