Concern about inflation and income caused a closely watched barometer of consumer sentiment to fall from its three-month high in February.
The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index dipped to 63.4 from 72.0 in February, the steepest decline in 13 months, when the U.S. stock market was hammered amid concern about Greece's debts.
Consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, is closely watched in transportation. Retail goods dominate containerized imports from Asia and are an important part of intermodal traffic.
The Conference Board index measures how Americans feel about business conditions, the job market and the next six months. It has hovered in a tight range from the high 50s to the low 60s over most of the past year. A reading of 90 indicates a healthy economy. The index hasn't approached that level since December 2007.
"The sharp decline in confidence was prompted by a sharp decline in expectations," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center. "Consumers' inflation expectations rose significantly in March and their income expectations soured, a combination that will likely impact spending decisions."
The Expectations Index, which measures expectations for the next six months, fell to 81.1 from 97.5 in February. The Present Situation Index, a gauge of how consumers feel about current economic conditions, improved to 36.9 from 33.8. Franco said those results indicate "that while the short-term future may be uncertain, the economy continues to expand."
The Conference Board index was taken on a monthly survey that was completed five days after the earthquake hit Japan on March 11.
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