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Consumer Confidence at Highest Level in 32-Year History of Index
By Seth Sutel   Associated Press
NEW YORK — Consumer confidence, a key indicator measuring the force behind the economy's long expansion, soared in January to the highest level ever reached in the 32 years that the data has been compiled, the Conference Board reported Tuesday.

"People looking for confirmation that the consumer confidence bubble will soon burst have a further wait in store," said Lynn Franco, research director for the Conference Board.

"An expanding global economy and a robust job market suggest that consumer optimism and consumer spending could rise even further in coming months," Franco said.

The consumer confidence index rose to 144.7 in January, up from 141.7 in December. It was the highest level measured in the 32 years that the business-financed research group has been keeping records on the data. The performance was stronger than expected.

Consumer sentiment is closely watched by economists since spending by consumers is a major engine behind the current economic boom, making up about two-thirds of the nation's overall economic activity.

Both components of the confidence index improved — consumers' assessment of current business conditions as well as their expectations for the future.

The monthly survey of 5,000 U.S. households reported 47 percent of those responding rated the current business environment "good" and 54 percent said jobs were "plentiful."

The strong reading is another indicator of the staying power of the current expansion in the U.S. economy, which began in March of 1991. The expansion tied the record 106-month expansion of the 1960s and surpasses it next month.

However, the report could also add to worries about inflation down the road and pre-emptory strikes against it in the way of interest rate increases from the Federal Reserve. The Fed's policy-making committee meets next week to decide whether to change interest rates for the fourth time since last June.

The Conference Board's report also said that consumers' optimism about future economic conditions is continuing to improve. The percentage of respondents anticipating better business conditions over the next six months rose to 19.6 percent from 17.5 percent last month. Those expecting conditions to worsen fell to 3.3 percent from 4.8 percent.

The bond market, which is highly sensitive to concerns about inflation, took the strong reading in stride. The benchmark 30-year Treasury bond, which rose Monday as investors took money out of the swooning stock market, edged higher this morning, sending its yield dipping to 6.63 percent from 6.64 percent late Monday and a 2 1/2-year high of 6.75 percent last week. Stock prices were little changed.

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