US consumer confidence up in December as economy gains steam



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WASHINGTON — Impressed with an improving economy, American consumers are feeling more confident, a private survey showed.

The Conference Board said Tuesday its consumer confidence index climbed to 92.6 this month from a revised 91 in November.

Consumers registered a more favorable view of current economic conditions; 17.1 percent said jobs were plentiful, up from 16.2 percent in November. Just 19.6 percent said business conditions were bad, down from 21.8 percent last month.

Expectations for the near future fell slightly. Compared to November, fewer consumers in December said they planned to buy a home or a car in the next six months. But 52.2 percent said they planned to buy a major appliance, the highest share since 2010, noted Laura Rosner, an economist at BNP Paribas. She predicts "continued strength in consumer spending." And their outlook is rosier now than it was when 2014 began.

Consumers have plenty of reasons to feel better. The economy grew from July through September at a 5 percent annual rate, fastest clip in 11 years. Employers are adding nearly 241,000 jobs a month this year — on pace to make 2014 the best year for hiring since 1999. The unemployment rate remained at a six-year low 5.8 percent last month. The missing piece of the economic recovery is pay: Wages are barely keeping up with inflation.

Still, tumbling gasoline prices are putting a bit of cash back in consumers' pockets: According to AAA, the average gallon of gasoline nationwide costs $2.27, down from $2.78 a month ago.

Another measure of consumer confidence — the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index — jumped this month to 93.6 from 88 in November. Michigan's December reading was the highest since January 2007, nearly a year before the Great Recession began.

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