WASHINGTON – Consumer confidence in the U.S. climbed more than projected in December as Americans’ views of current economic conditions jumped to the highest level since April 2008.
The Conference Board’s index rose to 78.1 from a revised 72 a month earlier that was stronger than initially estimated, the New York-based private research group said Tuesday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for a gain to 76.
Americans are growing upbeat about the economy as household finances improve on the heels of more hiring, rising property values and stock-market gains. Increased optimism along with greater wealth will help underpin the consumer spending that makes up almost 70 percent of the economy, providing a boost to the expansion.
“The consumer will continue to do some of the heavy lifting for the economy,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Penn. “The job market is better. Stock prices are rising. The odds of another round of political brinksmanship are lower.”
Estimates of 59 economists in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 71 to 81.2 after a previously reported November reading of 70.4. The index averaged 53.7 in the recession that ended in June 2009.
Another report on Tuesday showed home prices in 20 U.S. cities rose in October from a year ago by the most in more than seven years. The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property prices climbed 13.6 percent from October 2012, the biggest 12-month gain since February 2006, after a 13.3 percent increase in the year ended in September.
Stocks rose, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index poised for its biggest annual gain since 1997, after the housing and confidence data. The S&P 500 climbed 0.2 percent to 1,845.41 at 10:38 a.m. in New York.
The Conference Board’s barometer of present conditions increased to 76.2 from 73.5. Consumers’ assessments of current labor-market conditions also improved. The share of respondents who said positions were hard to get dropped to the lowest level since September 2008.
A gauge of consumer expectations for the next six months jumped to a three-month high of 79.4 in December from 71.1 a month earlier.
The proportion of Americans who said jobs would become more plentiful in the next six months rose to a four-month high of 17.1 percent from 13.1 percent in November.