The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, which had improved in February to a 2013 high, declined in March. The Index now stands at 59.7 (1985=100), down from 68.0 in February. The Present Situation Index decreased to 57.9 from 61.4. The Expectations Index declined to 60.9 from 72.4.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was March 14, 2013.

Says Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board: "Consumer Confidence fell sharply in March, following February's uptick. This month's retreat was driven primarily by a sharp decline in expectations, although consumers were also more pessimistic in their assessment of current conditions. The loss of confidence, particularly expectations, mirrors the losses experienced this past December and January. The recent sequester has created uncertainty regarding the economic outlook and as a result, consumers are less confident."

Consumers' appraisal of current conditions declined in March. Those saying business conditions are "good" decreased to 16.0 percent from 17.6 percent, while those stating business conditions are "bad" increased to 29.3 percent from 28.2 percent.

Consumers' assessment of the labor market was mixed. Those claiming jobs are "plentiful" decreased to 9.4 percent from 10.1 percent, but those claiming jobs are "hard to get" edged down to 36.2 percent from 36.9 percent.

Consumers are once again pessimistic about the short-term outlook. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months decreased to 14.4 percent from 18.0 percent, while those anticipating business conditions to worsen increased to 18.3 percent from 16.6 percent.