US consumer confidence up again on strong job market and lower gasoline prices



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WASHINGTON — A strong job market and low gasoline prices helped boost U.S. consumer confidence again this month.

The Conference Board on Tuesday said that its consumer confidence index rose to 98.1 in January from 96.3 in December, the second straight monthly gain. The business research group said Americans were more confident about the future, though their assessment of current economic conditions was unchanged from December.

Consumers shrugged off the recent sharp decline in the stock market and signs of economic weakness overseas.

"The increase is rather surprising given the volatility in equities in the month," Derek Lindsey, economist at BNP Paribas, wrote in a research note. "A resilient labor market and low gasoline and utilities prices seem to have offset any negative sentiment stemming from financial markets."

The stock market has been rattled by the impact of China's persistent economic slowdown and a plunge in the prices of commodities, including oil.

From October through December, U.S. employers added a robust average of 284,000 jobs a month. The unemployment rate remained at a seven-year low 5 percent in December. The average price of a gallon of gasoline has reached $1.83 from $2 a month ago, according to AAA.

The Conference Board said 6.6 percent of survey respondents planned to buy a house in the next six months. That's the highest percentage since December 2013.

More than 72 percent expected interest rates to rise over the next year, the most since July 2006. The Federal Reserve last month raised the short-term rate it controls for the first time since 2006.

The Conference Board said confidence was highest in households headed by someone younger than 35 and in the mountain states of the West. It was weakest in households led by those 55 and older and in the Middle Atlantic.

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