ECONOMY

Consumer confidence

drops in December

U.S. consumer confidence tumbled this month as Americans began to worry that economic growth will moderate next year. But consumer spirits are still high by historic standards.

The Conference Board, a business research group, said Thursday that its consumer confidence index fell to 128.1 in December, down from 136.4 in November and lowest since July.

The index measures consumers' assessment of current economic conditions and their outlook for the next six months. Both fell in December. Consumers' expectations for the future dropped to the lowest level since November 2016.

The December readings "still suggest that the economy will continue expanding at a solid pace in the short-term," said Lynn Franco, the Conference Board's senior director of economic indicators. "While consumers are ending 2018 on a strong note, back-to-back declines in expectations are reflective of an increasing concern that the pace of economic growth will begin moderating in the first half of 2019."

MORTGAGE RATES

Long-term rates

decline this week

U.S. long-term mortgage rates fell this week, offering a slight degree of relief to would-be homebuyers after the stock market has tumbled.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage dipped to 4.55 percent from 4.62 percent last week. Rates averaged 3.99 percent a year ago.

The average rate for 15-year fixed-rate loans dropped to 4.01 percent from 4.07 percent. Still, that average is above its 3.44 percent level a year ago.

Mortgage rates began to spike after President Donald Trump signed deficit-financed tax cuts into law last year, but rates have eased in recent weeks as stocks have sold off and the interest charged on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note has tumbled.

The decline in mortgage rates could help boost home sales, which have stumbled this year as higher borrowing costs have worsened affordability.

ONLINE RETAIL

Laundry detergents shrink

to meet Amazon's demands

Amazon's rise is forcing laundry detergents to shrink.

Tide and Seventh Generation have introduced redesigned laundry detergents that are several pounds lighter by cutting down on plastic in their packaging and using less water in their formulas. They're making the changes to please Amazon and other online stores: Lighter packaging means retailers pay less to ship the detergent to shopper's doorsteps, making each sale more profitable.

For consumers, the new packaging has been designed to better survive shipping without leaking. The challenge, however, is getting online shoppers to buy detergent that looks nothing like the heavy bottles they are used to.

Tide is putting its detergent into a cardboard box, making it 4 pounds lighter than its 150-ounce plastic bottles, but still able to wash the same 96 loads. Seventh Generation went with a compact plastic bottle that's less than 9 inches tall, rectangular in shape and has no measuring cup.

The downsized detergents are a sign of Amazon's growing influence.