U.S. Consumers Are Feeling Quite Ill

The big macro can cause big moves in the market. What does today's headline macro news mean for your portfolio?

What's happening: The private research firm The Conference Board released its October consumer confidence data, and it didn't look good. The overall index fell 6.6 points to 39.8.

In plain English, please: The October reading is the lowest since March of 2009 and reflects a 7-point drop in The Conference Board's Present Situation Index and a 6.4-point drop in the Expectations Index.

The question, of course, is what this means for investors. The times when consumers are most pessimistic -- like March 2009 -- are often the times when the economy may be ready to turn. At the same time, dour views on the economy do not necessarily mean consumers' wallets are slamming shut, so it's important to also keep an eye on what consumers are actually doing, as reflected in numbers like retail sales.

With all of that said, we certainly don't want to minimize what a sour consumer mood could mean heading into the holiday season.

Stocks to watch: As we head toward the all-important holiday season, the willingness of consumers to spend is key for a great number of companies. We're talking about everyone from toymakers like Hasbro (NYS: HAS) , to brick-and-mortar retailers like J.C. Penney (NYS: JCP) , online retailers like Amazon.com (NAS: AMZN) , consumer-electronics giants like Apple (NAS: AAPL) , and clothing companies like Abercrombie & Fitch (NYS: ANF) .

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