Results of the Conference Board's consumer confidence index for October, which was based on responses to questionnaires sent to consumers at the end of September and collected through the middle of October, fell to a record low (dating back to 1967) of 38, from 61.4 in September. The results reflect the obvious: the weak economy, the housing market and the financial crisis. The previous record low was 43.2 in December 1974.

October's 23.4-point decline was the third-largest ever; the two other declines occurred in the early 1970s. These figures will reinforce the negative tone on Wall Street, although they can hardly be viewed as a shock and a game-changer, given all that has happened of late.

The indices on current conditions and expectations both fell sharply, but the index on expectations fell the most, to 35.5 from 61.5. The index on current conditions fell to 41.9 from 61.1. Consistent with these declines, major components on business conditions (the worst since 1992) and employment (the worst since 1993) were extremely weak. For example, just 8.9% of respondents said that jobs were "plentiful," compared with 37.2% who said jobs were "hard to get." In September, 12.6% said jobs were plentiful and 32.2% said jobs were hard to get.

Only 7.4% of respondents said that they expected employment to increase over the next six months. When this is combined with the recent spike in jobless claims, it appears an odds-on bet that upcoming job statistics will be very poor. Job losses are likely to move toward 200,000 per month with occasional spikes lower now and then. This is a well-known concept by now, which is to say that the markets are prepared for bad employment news, perhaps just as in past recessions when jobs data were ignored at the midpoint of recession.

Interestingly, plans to purchase a home increased to 2.7% of respondents from 2.3% in September, possibly reflecting lower prices.

Plans to purchase both a range and clothes dryer increased, possibly reflecting consumers' newfound ability to stand the heat.

Plans to travel abroad increased, reflecting the strengthening of the U.S. dollar.

Importantly, expectations on inflation 12 months hence increased to 6.9% from 6.2%, suggesting that the benefit of the recent plunge in energy prices has yet to sink in. The benefits of falling energy costs are still in the pipeline.
Tony Crescenzi is the chief bond market strategist at Miller Tabak + Co., LLC, and advises many of the nation's top institutional investors on issues related to the bond market, the economy and other macro-related issues. At the request of the Federal Reserve, Crescenzi is a regular participant in the board's Livingston Survey of economic forecasters. He is also the author of the revised investment classic, The Money Market, first published in 1978 by Marcia Stigum, and The Strategic Bond Investor. At the time of publication, Crescenzi or Miller Tabak had no positions in the securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Crescenzi also is the founder of Bondtalk.com, a popular Web site covering the bond market and the economy. Crescenzi appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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