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Consumer confidence jumps as job hopes rise

U.S. consumer confidence rose sharply this month as Americans turned a bit more hopeful about the employment picture.

The Conference Board’s confidence index, based on interviews with 5,000 households, jumped to 60.6 in January from 53.3 last month.

This month’s reading is the second-highest since the recession officially ended in June 2009. The only higher reading was 62.7 in May 2010 -- just before the economy hit a slowdown that persisted into early summer.

A decent holiday spending season and the stock market's big fourth-quarter rally probably helped boost  consumers' mood. Still, sentiment overall remains depressed by historical standards: For most of 2004 through 2007 the Conference Board index had been above 100.

“Consumers have begun the year in better spirits,” said Lynn Franco, director of the board’s consumer research center. “Consumers rated business and labor market conditions more favorably and expressed greater confidence that the economy will continue to expand and generate more jobs in the months ahead.”

In one encouraging sign, the board’s “present situation” index, which measures how consumers feel about the here and now, jumped to 31.0 this month, the highest since November 2008 and up from 24.9 in December.

The “expectations” index, which measures where people think the economy will be in six months, rose to 80.3, up from 72.3 last month but still below the 2010 peak of 84.6 last May.

The percentage of consumers expecting more jobs to be available in the next six months rose to 16% from 14.2% in December. But the percentage was 20.2% last May before the economy weakened.

People also are less worried about existing jobs disappearing. The percentage expecting there to be fewer jobs overall in six months fell to a three-year low of 17.5% from 19.2% in December.

The majority of people -- 66.5% -- just expect the job market to hold steady in the next six months, about the same percentage as December.

-- Tom Petruno

 
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