Tuesday, March 28, 2006

In spite of the MSM

Consumer confidence jumps to near 4-year high

NEW YORK - U.S. consumers perked up in March as economic activity gained momentum, sending an index of sentiment about the economy to its highest in almost four years, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The Conference Board, a private research firm, said its measure of consumer sentiment spiked to 107.2, up from an upwardly revised 102.7 last month and well above Wall Street's median forecast for a slight gain.

The survey's components reaffirmed general perceptions about the economic environment, showing optimism about the present but concern about the future. It offered mixed signals on the job market.

"The improvement in consumers' assessment of present-day conditions is yet another sign that the economy gained steam in early 2006," said Lynn Franco, director of the survey firm's Consumer Research Center.

"Consumer expectations, while improved, remained subdued and still suggest a cooling in activity in the latter half of the year," she added.

The present situation index rose to 133.3 from 130.3, while the expectations measure climbed to 89.9 from 84.2.

That was consistent with forecasts for blockbuster growth at the start of year but a cooler housing market contributing to slower economic activity in the second half of 2006.

The report painted a mixed employment picture, however. The proportion of consumers saying jobs were hard to get edged up to 20.7 percent from 20.2 percent, while those saying jobs were plentiful also climbed to 28.4 percent from 27.4.

Consumer confidence is often tracked as a precursor of spending, although the correlation has been shaky in recent years. Analysts also warned that rising gasoline prices, if sustained, were bound to sap confidence in coming months.


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