NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
After showing signs of improvement the prior week, consumer confidence remained flat last week, with weak ratings on the national economy keeping it well below average.
Following a four-point gain the previous week, this week's ABC News/Money magazine Consumer Comfort Index is unchanged at -17 on its scale of positive 100 to negative 100. That's near its best of the year, -15 on April 20 and well over its 2003 low of -28 set on March 23.
But the index remains below its long-term average, -9 since late 1985, almost entirely because ratings on the economy are 14 points lower than average. In contrast, personal finance and buying climate ratings are near their 17-year averages.
Twenty-seven percent of Americans rate the nation's economy as excellent or good, the same as the week prior. The highest level of confidence in this category was set at 80 percent in January 2000.
Respondents expressed slightly more optimism in their personal finances last week. Fifty-seven percent rate their own finances as excellent or good, up from 56 the previous week. This category's highest level of consumer confidence was set at 70 percent in August 1998 and last matched in January 2000.
The survey's buying gauge, which measures consumers' willingness to spend money, dipped slightly as 40 percent of respondents say it's an excellent or good time to buy things they want and need, down from 41 percent the week prior. Consumers reported their highest level of confidence in this category, which reached 57 percent, in January 2000.
As usual, confidence is higher among better-off Americans. The index stands at +9 among people in higher-income households compared to -45 in the lowest.
The ABC News/Money magazine Consumer Comfort Index represents a rolling average based on telephone interviews with a random sample of about 1,000 adults nationwide each month. This week's results are based on 1,003 interviews in the month ending August 3, 2003, and have an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points.