The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, which had increased in February, pulled back slightly in March. The index now stands at 70.2 (1985=100), down from 71.6 in February. The Present Situation Index, however, increased to 51.0 from 46.4. The Expectations Index declined to 83.0 from 88.4 in February.

Consumers’ appraisal of current conditions improved in March. Those claiming business conditions are “good” increased 14.3% from 13.7%. However, those claiming business conditions are “bad” also increased, to 32.7% from 31.7%. Consumers’ assessment of the job market was mixed. Those saying jobs are “plentiful” increased to 9.4% from 7.0%, while those stating jobs are “hard to get” also rose, to 41.0% from 38.6%.

Consumers were less optimistic about the short-term outlook than they were last month. The proportion of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 19.2% from 18.9%. However, those anticipating business conditions will worsen also rose, to 13.5% from 11.8%.

Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was moderately less upbeat. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead decreased to 17.3% from 18.8%, while those anticipating fewer jobs increased to 18.3% from 16.4%. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes improved slightly to 15.8% from 15.5%.

“Consumer confidence pulled back slightly in March, after rising sharply in February,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. “The moderate decline was due solely to a less favorable short-term outlook, while consumers’ assessment of current conditions, on the other hand, continued to improve. The Present Situation Index now stands at its highest level in three-and-a-half years (61.1, Sept. 2008), suggesting that despite this month’s dip in confidence, consumers feel the economy is not losing momentum.”

Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch, conducts the monthly Consumer Confidence Survey for the Conference Board, based on a probability-design random sample. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was March 15.