Americans more optimismic about economy, poll shows

McClatchy NewspapersApril 9, 2009 

— Slightly more than half of Americans think the sickly U.S. economy has stabilized, and almost three in every four think it will take longer than six months for a massive economic stimulus program to be felt, an Ipsos-McClatchy tracking poll showed Wednesday.

And a separate survey released Wednesday by Ipsos, done for the Royal Bank of Canada, showed the first significant boost in consumer confidence since September, when the global financial crisis erupted.

Results from both polls will be welcome news to President Barack Obama and his Treasury Department, which has spent the past two months working round the clock in an effort to reverse the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The Ipsos/McClatchy tracking poll found that 52 percent of Americans now think the U.S. economy has stabilized. That's well up from the 35 percent who said that just four weeks earlier.

"That's a 17-point bump. It's congruent with what we're kind of seeing. ... [P]eople are feeling at least that the bottom has bottomed out I guess, and at least we're stabilizing," said Ipsos spokesman Clifford Young.

Only one in three Americans thought the worst of the economic crisis was still to come, compared to 57 percent last month.

In other good news, 72 percent of poll respondents expected the $787 billion economic stimulus package to show results in a period beyond six months. It suggests that the Obama administration's plea for patience seems to have created hopes for recovery over a longer horizon.

"I think that would be consistent with the reports we are seeing out of the economy that are now popularly called these 'green shoots.' ... [T]here is less bad news around, unemployment aside, that would be consistent with consumers thinking things are not going to get worse," said James Dunigan, the managing director of investment for PNC Wealth Management in Pittsburgh.

Among the "green shoots" of a recovery are lower mortgage rates, which have prompted new refinancing and some growth in new home purchases. Other boosts to consumer confidence include lower gasoline prices, some reduction of payroll taxes as part of the economic stimulus plan passed by Congress, and income-tax rebates going out.

That's not to say there aren't risks ahead. Credit markets remain tight, and lending is restrained. By month's end, the Treasury Department will have completed stress tests on the country's 19 largest banks, and the results could lead to new concern about the banking sector.

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