NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Consumer confidence plunged last week, matching its steepest drop on record in more than 18 years of weekly polling by ABC News and Money magazine.
The ABC/Money Consumer Comfort Index, based on ratings of current economic conditions, lost seven points -- a single-week fall that's been matched just twice before, in January 2001 and February 1990. In each of those cases, recessions followed.
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The drop erases gains made in December and January, pushing consumer confidence below its long-term average. And expectations have worsened as well: Pessimism about the economy's direction has jumped by 10 points to its highest level in five months.
The change is hardly good news for President Bush as it coincides with the height of the Democratic primary season in which the candidates have been sharply critical of Bush's economic performance.
Here's a closer look at the three components that comprise the ABC/Money index:
Thirty-six percent of Americans rate the nation's economy as excellent or good, down from 41 percent a week prior. The lowest level of confidence in this category, 7 percent, was set in late 1991 and early 1992.
Americans were slightly less optimistic about their personal finances as 56 percent rate their own financial health as excellent or good versus 58 percent the previous week. Consumer confidence for this category bottomed out at 42 percent in March 1993.
The survey's buying gauge, which measures consumers' willingness to spend, fell as 39 percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things compared to 42 percent the week prior. For this category, consumer confidence hit a record low of 20 percent in the fall of 1990.
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 1,000 interviews in the month ending February 15, 2004, and have an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points.