Consumer confidence falls

NEW YORK — Americans are feeling worse about the economy than they have in a long time — a fact that could have wide-reaching implications everywhere from Wal-Mart to the White House.

Despite improving U.S. job and housing markets, consumer confidence fell to the lowest level it’s been since November 2011, according to The Conference Board, a private research group. The results are the latest swing in the index, which has been on a roller coaster ride this year.

The index declined in January, rose in February and then posted four months of declines before registering an increase in July. August’s reading indicates that the gains in the job and housing markets aren’t big enough to put to rest Americans’ economic fears. That not only threatens to put a damper on retail sales for the back-to-school and winter holiday seasons — the two biggest shopping periods of the year — but it also could have an impact on how Americans vote in November’s presidential election.

Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo Securities economist, says that in elections since 1972, no president has been re-elected when confidence was below a reading of 90, which indicates a healthy economy. The index hasn’t reached that level since 2007. The Consumer Confidence Index in August fell to 60.6 from 65.4 in July.