Higher gas prices and inflationary fears pushed consumer sentiment downward in a preliminary March report, according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index.

The report, which surveys 500 households on their financial conditions each month, said its index measuring consumer confidence slipped to 74.3 in mid-March from 75.3 in February. A score of 100 represents exceptionally high consumer sentiment benchmarked in 1966.

Analysts with Econoday blame the downward trajectory on rising gas prices and a general attitude among consumers of rising inflation.

"One-year inflation expectations surged seven-tenths during the first two weeks of this month to 4%, which is a very high reading for this report," Econoday analysts said. The research firm noted that higher gas prices reduce income levels, pushing overall confidence lower.

Capital Economics also said a falling index score shows "households are balking at higher gasoline prices."

"The drop reversed only a small part of the recent gains from August’s low of 55.8, but confidence is once again struggling to close in on the level of 80 that was common before the recession," the international research firm wrote. "The current conditions index actually rose, to 84.2 from 83.0, most probably due to the further improvement in the labour market."

The sentiment dip comes in the wake of significant job gains. The private sector added 216,000 jobs in February, according to Automatic Data Processing and Macroeconomic Advisers.

kpanchuk@housingwire.com