In contrast to the March general Consumer Confidence Index of The Conference Board, which fell over 10% to the low levels last seen in Fall 2010, the affluent, who account for about half of all consumer spending, report a better outlook for the economy and their personal spending plans in a new Spring 2011 survey by the American Affluence Research Center.

Spending plans for all 17 products and services tracked by these twice-yearly surveys of the wealthiest 10% of US households are much stronger than in the Fall 2010 survey. There is also improvement in the plans to make major expenditures such as for a new auto, a cruise, and a vacation home. These results are consistent with reported sales during the first quarter of 2011.

Given the 11.4 million households represented by this survey, it can be estimated that the market segment represents potential purchases during the next 12 months of 2.4 million autos, 1.5 million home remodeling projects, 1.7 million cruise buyers (total of 3.4 million cruisers), 422,000 vacation homes, and 536,000 primary residences.

Men, those with a $6M+ net worth, and those under age 50 are the most likely to plan the acquisition of one or more of the 8 major expenditures listed. Most of the items have relatively large variations within age, income, and net worth segments. Reflecting a substantial amount of possible additional purchases, the “undecideds” or “don’t know” respondents are relatively numerous for autos (10%), cruises (8%), remodeling (5%), acquisition of a primary residence (4.1%), and acquisition of a vacation home (5.4%).

With the exception of the dining in casual/family restaurants index, which was unchanged, the index for all of the categories rose from the Fall 2010 survey, typically by 7 to 9 points.

The improvement has come primarily from increases in the “same” category and declines in the “less” category rather than increases in the “more” category.

In 16 of the 17 categories, two-thirds or more plan to spend the same or more during the next 12 months. There were 12 such categories in the Fall 2010 survey.

Domestic vacation travel continues to be the strongest category. Most of the categories are now higher than the Spring 2010 survey, when evidence of “frugal fatigue” first appeared in the surveys, and back to the levels of Spring and Fall 2008. The overall average is the highest it has been since 2008.

In 16 of the 17 categories, the segment with the strongest spending indexes is the under age 50 group. The differences within the gender, income, and net worth groups are generally minimal.

In general, the categories of services (vacation and leisure activities) appear to have somewhat better prospects than the other categories of tangible products. All three group spending indexes (home durables, leisure, and vacation travel) increased from the Fall 2010 levels, with the vacation travel category showing the most improvement and the other two groups up slightly less. All three groups are essentially back to 2008 levels.

Participants in the American Affluence Research Center survey have an average annual household income of $333,000, an average primary residence value of $1.2 million, an average net worth of $3.1 million, and average investable assets of $1.8 million.

A description of the Spring 2011 survey methodology and other detailed highlights of the survey can be viewed at: