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Consumer confidence at highest level since September ’08

By Courtney Schlisserman
Bloomberg News / January 27, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Consumer confidence rose in January to the highest level since September 2008 as the labor market improved and Americans became more upbeat about their immediate future.

The Conference Board’s confidence index increased to 55.9, higher than the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey, from a revised 53.6 in December, a report from the New York-based private research group showed yesterday. The figure reached a record low of 25.3 in February 2009.

A brighter outlook may encourage Americans to spend, adding fuel to an economy that’s received its biggest kick from production gains. Consumer spending that accounts for about 70 percent of the economy has been limited by companies’ reluctance to hire after two years of job cuts.

“It’s a slight improvement, and given where consumer confidence has been the last four, five months, a slight improvement is a nice takeaway,’’ said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, N.C.

“It appears labor market conditions are not getting any worse, and that’s a plus.’’

Economists forecast confidence would rise to 53.5 from a previously reported 52.9 for December, according to the median of 67 projections in a Bloomberg survey. Estimates ranged from 50 to 57. The index, which has increased the last three months, averaged 45.2 for all of last year.

The board’s measure of present conditions rose to 25, the highest since August, from 20.2 the prior month. The gain reflected increased optimism about current business conditions and jobs.

The share of consumers who said jobs are plentiful increased to 4.3 percent, the highest since August, from 3.1 percent, according to the board. The proportion of people who said jobs are hard to get fell to 47.4 percent from 48.1 percent.

The gauge of expectations for the next six months increased to 76.5, the highest since October 2007, from 75.9 the prior month.

The proportion of people who expect their incomes to decrease over the next six months fell to 16.2 percent from 18.4 percent. The share expecting more jobs dropped to 15.5 percent from 16.4 percent.

Buying plans for automobiles, major appliances, and real estate rose this month, the report showed.