(Bloomberg) -- US consumer sentiment faltered in late February as current views of the economy and the outlook deteriorated, marking a reversal from earlier in the month that showed a pickup in optimism.

The sentiment index declined to 76.9 from a preliminary reading of 79.6, according to the final February survey from the University of Michigan. The intramonth drop was the biggest since March 2020.

The earlier February reading — which included interviews through Feb. 14 — was the highest since July 2021. Gas prices climbed notably toward the end of the month, but the survey didn’t specify what led sentiment to deteriorate so much through Feb. 26, when the final responses were collected.

Consumers expect prices will climb at an annual rate of 3% over the next year, up from the 2.9% expected in January, data Friday showed. They see costs rising 2.9% over the next five to 10 years, unchanged from the prior month.

Despite the drop, sentiment has largely been improving in the last two years as inflation has retreated without much damage to the economy.

“Consumers perceived few changes in the state of the economy since the start of the new year, and they appear to be assured that inflation will continue on a favorable trajectory,” Joanne Hsu, director of the survey, said in a statement.

The change in sentiment in February differed by political affiliation. Views among Republicans improved to the best level since mid-2021. Those for Democrats worsened by the most since June 2022 but remained elevated, especially compared to the other party.

The current conditions gauge fell last month to 79.4 and a measure of expectations dropped to 75.2 from January. Buying conditions for durable goods eased, as did consumers’ expectations for their personal finances.

--With assistance from Kristy Scheuble and Vince Golle.

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