Consumer confidence hits 16-year high in March

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The Conference Board said today that its Consumer Confidence Index rose sharply in March, reaching its highest level since December 2000.

The index stands at 125.6, up from 116.1 in February. The Present Situation Index rose from 134.4 to 143.1 and the Expectations Index increased from 103.9 last month to 113.8.

“Consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions improved considerably,” The Conference Board director of economic indicators Lynn Franco said in a statement.

“Consumers also expressed much greater optimism regarding the short-term outlook for business, jobs and personal income prospects. Thus, consumers feel current economic conditions have improved over the recent period, and their renewed optimism suggests the possibility of some upside to the prospects for economic growth in the coming months.”

MarketWatch said the gains cut across most regional and income groups — the higher a household’s income was, the higher its consumer confidence reading.

The Conference Board said consumers’ appraisal of current conditions improved considerably in March. The percentage of respondents who said business conditions are “good” increased from 28.2 percent to 32.2 percent; those who said business conditions are “bad” decreased from 13.4 percent to 12.9 percent.

Consumers’ assessment of the labor market was also more positive. The percentage of consumers who said jobs are “plentiful” rose from 26.9 percent to 31.7 percent; those who said jobs are “hard to get” decreased moderately, from 19.9 percent to 19.5 percent.

Consumers also were significantly more optimistic about the short-term outlook. The percentage of consumers who expect business conditions to improve during the next six months increased from 23.9 percent to 27.1 percent; those who expect business conditions to worsen declined from 10.5 percent to 8.4 percent.

Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was also more upbeat. The proportion who expect more jobs in the months ahead increased from 20.9 percent to 24.8 percent; those who anticipate fewer jobs declined from 13.6 percent to 12.2 percent.

The percentage of consumers who expect their income to increase improved from 19.2 percent to 21.5 percent; the proportion that expect a decrease declined from 8.1 percent to 7 percent.

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