Two leading economic indicators released today sent mixed messages about the economy and how people feel about it. The bad news: The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller Indices that measure home prices fell to all-time low levels during May. The not-so-bad news: The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index held steady in July at 51.9, a slight improvement over the June reading of 51.0.

Regarding housing, the Case-Shiller 20-city index plunged by 15.8% in May versus the year-earlier period, while the 10-city index sank further by 16.9%. Those are the deepest drops ever for both indexes.

All 20 metropolitan survey areas posted annual declines for the second consecutive month, and nine had record declines--Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Washington, D.C. The biggest decliners were Las Vegas (-28.4%), Miami (-28.3%) and Phoenix (-26.5%). Others with declines of more than 20% were L.A., San Diego, San Francisco and Tampa.

Charlotte registered the smallest decline (-0.2%), followed by Dallas (-3.1%) and Denver (-4.8%).

Regarding The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index number of 51.9 in July (1985=100), that small uptick was the first positive monthly reading since the index hit 90.6 last December and proceeded on its deep, steady plunge that culminated--at least temporarily--with the June result.

The Conference Board's Present Situation Index was virtually unchanged at 65.3 versus 65.4 last month, while the Expectations Index increased somewhat to 43.0 from 41.4 in June.

"In the historic perspective these are still very weak and grim readings," says Lynn Franco, consumer research director at The Conference Board. "Right now it looks like a pause, and whatever happens in the next few months will shed greater light on the direction they will take."

Despite small improvements from June, the overall outlook continues remains pessimistic, particularly in the labor market where the percent of consumers expecting fewer jobs in coming months rose to 37.1% from 35.%, while those anticipating more jobs remained virtually unchanged at 8.2%. That said, those expecting their incomes to increase rose to 14.2% from 13.1%.