NEW YORK—U.S. consumers have felt better about the economy this month, according to a report released Tuesday.
The Conference Board, a private research group, said its index of consumer confidence jumped to 70.4 in February from a revised 64.8 in January. Last week, the Conference Board revised its indexes back to November 2010 to reflect new methodology.
The February reading was well above the 66.0 expected by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. The steep improvement should bolster expectations that consumer spending will keep adding to U.S. economic growth this year.
The present-situation index, a gauge of consumers’ assessment of current economic conditions, rose to 33.4 from 31.1.
Consumer expectations for economic activity over the next six months jumped to 95.1 from 87.3 last month.
Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said growing optimism about the short-term future was driving confidence.
“Looking ahead, consumers are more positive about the economy and their income prospects but feel somewhat mixed about employment conditions,” Ms. Franco said.
The labor markets have been a driving force behind consumer attitudes about the economy. Job growth has been weak so far in the recovery, with only 36,000 new jobs added in January.
Even so, consumers are slightly less worried about the labor markets this month. The report shows 45.7% think jobs are “hard to get” this month, down from 47.0% in January, while 4.9% of respondents think jobs are “plentiful,” up from 4.6% last month.
Expectations about labor markets were mixed, with 64.8% of respondents expecting no change in jobs in the next six months.
The percentage of consumers expecting more jobs in the months ahead dropped to 19.8% from 20.8%, and the proportion expecting fewer jobs fell to 15.4% from 21.2% in January.
Meanwhile, U.S. home prices declined in December from a month earlier, continuing a downward trend that began in August, according to the S&P Case-Shiller home-price indexes.
David Blitzer, chairman of S&P’s index committee, said the index for the full fourth quarter fell 4.1% from the prior year, and prices in 18 of 20 cities were down over the last 12 months.
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