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Consumer confidence climbs for fourth consecutive month, but pessimists still outnumber optimists

January 26, 2010 |  8:59 am

Consumer confidence rose  for the fourth straight month in January, according to a report released today.

The index measuring the sentiment jumped to 55.9 from 53.6 in December, according to New York research group The Conference Board. The upward trend started with October’s 48.7 reading and continued with November’s 50.6. The index hit historic low in February, at 25.3.

The Present Situation Index, which follows consumers’ feelings about the current economic state, soared to 25 from 20.2 last month. Of the 5,000 U.S. households sampled through Jan. 19, 9% said business conditions seemed to be good, an improvement from December’s 7.5%.

But more people also said conditions were bad: 46.1% in January compared to 45.7% the prior month.

Jobs are still hard to get, according to 47.4% of respondents, which is down from 48.1%  in December. But 4.3% said positions are plentiful, up from 3.1%.

Consumers’ short-term outlook over the next six months, measured by the Expectations Index, spiked to 76.5 from 75.9. But despite the moderately more positive level, the index “does not suggest any significant pickup in activity in the coming months,” said Lynn Franco, director of group’s Consumer Research Center, in a statement.

The doomsday prophets still outnumber the optimists, she said. Though 20.9% of respondents said they expect business conditions to improve, the number is down from the 21.2% who were hopeful in December. That month, just 11.8% of people said they thought conditions would worsen, compared to the 12.7% who were pessimistic in January.

Fewer respondents also anticipated a friendlier job market – 15.5% said more jobs will be available down the line, compared to 16.4% last month. But just 18.9% predicted fewer jobs, down from 20.6% in December. And just 16.2% are bracing for a plunge in their income, while 18.4% in December had expected tighter wallets.

The survey was conducted by research company TNS.

-- Tiffany Hsu