Consumer confidence still high in early February, but that was before coronavirus fears snowballed

The numbers: Consumers were still very optimistic about the economy in early February, a new survey shows, but if a strain of coronavirus continues to spread rapidly around the world it’s likely to take a toll on how Americans view their own financial well-being.

The closely followed index of consumer confidence rose slightly to 130.7 from 130.4 in January. It was the highest reading in six months, the Conference Board reported Tuesday.

There’s one big caveat, though. The cutoff date for the survey was two weeks ago — before the outbreak of the COVID-19 illness spread beyond China to other countries such as South Korea, Iran and Italy.

Heightened worries about the virus on Monday sheared more than 1,000 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.46%

Opinion: If the coronavirus isn’t contained, a severe global recession is almost certain

What happened: An index that gauges how consumers feel about the economy right now slipped 8.8 points to 173.9.

Yet another gauge that assesses how Americans view the next six months — the so-called future expectations index — rose to 107.8 from 101.4. That’s the highest level since last July.

Confidence is still fairly high by historical standards — the index hit an 18-year peak of 137.9 in late 2018 — but it’s unlikely to hold up if the latest coronavirus keeps spreading or reaches U.S. shores.

Big picture: A month ago the U.S. economy looked like it was tacking in the right direction in 2020, but that was before the threat of a global pandemic darkened the outlook. If the virus isn’t contained, the possibility of a global recession are sure to rise with negative implications for the American economy.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.46% and S&P 500 SPX, -0.56% fell slightly in Tuesday trades as investors remain nervous about the COVID-19 illness. The Dow lost a whopping 1,000 points on Monday as fears that the virus might not be contained sank in on Wall Street.

The 10-year Treasury yield TMUBMUSD10Y, -2.73% slipped again to 1.35%, just a few ticks above its all-time low. Many investors have rushed into Treasurys as a safe haven to protect their money.

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