The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had increased in February, declined in March. The index now stands at 63.4 (1985=100), down from 72 in February. The Present Situation Index improved to 36.9 from 33.8. The Expectations Index decreased to 81.1 from 97.5 last month.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey®, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by The Nielsen Co., a global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for March’s preliminary results was March 16.

“The sharp decline in confidence was prompted by a sharp decline in expectations,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. “Consumers’ inflation expectations rose significantly in March and their income expectations soured, a combination that will likely impact spending decisions. On the other hand, consumers’ assessment of current conditions improved, indicating that while the short-term future may be uncertain, the economy continues to expand.”

Consumers’ assessment of current conditions improved in March. Those claiming business conditions are “good” increased to 15.1% from 12.4%, while those claiming business conditions are “bad” decreased to 37% from 39.3%. Consumers’ appraisal of the job market, however, was slightly less favorable than in February. Those saying jobs are “hard to get” edged up to 44.6% from 44.4%, while those stating jobs are “plentiful” dipped to 4.4% from 4.9%.

Consumers’ short-term outlook was considerably less favorable than in February. The proportion of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months declined to 20.6% from 25.2%, while those anticipating business conditions will worsen increased to 16.2% from 10.3%. Consumers were also more downbeat about the labor market. Those expecting more jobs in the months ahead declined to 19.9% from 21.2%, while those anticipating fewer jobs rose to 20.7% from 15%. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes declined to 15.3% from 17.4%.