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Sentiment among barbers, shopkeepers and other merchants on the front lines of the economy fell to a 2 1/2-year low as falling wages and a stock-market plunge discouraged consumers from spending.

The Economy Watchers index, a gauge of domestic demand via a survey of about 2,000 people who deal directly with consumers, fell to 44.7 points in July, the fourth straight monthly decline, the Cabinet Office said Wednesday. A number less than 50 means pessimists outnumber optimists.

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