Reuters reports on the sharpest increase in U.S. consumer confidence in more than six years. But, don't get overly excited (like the stock market currently is), the American shopper is still quite depressed by historical measure.
The Conference Board, an industry group, said on Tuesday its index of consumer attitudes jumped to 54.9 in May from a revised 40.8 in April, the biggest one-month jump since April 2003. Economists had been looking for a much smaller rise to 42.0.
Fewer Americans said jobs were "hard to get," the survey found, with that measure slipping to 44.7 percent from 46.6 percent. Those saying jobs were plentiful climbed to a still meager 5.7 percent, but that was still higher than April's 4.9 percent.
"Consumers are considerably less pessimistic than they were earlier this year," said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board's Consumer Research Center.
Once again, less bad is the new good, the "considerably less pessimistic" assessment being cause for some to get out the bubbly and celebrate, at least for a little while.
The survey offered mixed messages regarding Americans' propensity to spend money. The proportion of those who said they planned on buying a car over the next six months rose to 5.5 percent, its highest in at least a year.
But fewer intended to buy homes -- only 2.3 percent, a tough break for one of the hardest hit sectors in the country's economic crisis. A separate report on Tuesday revealed U.S. home prices dropped 18.7 percent in March compared to a year earlier.
Here's a graphic from the Wall Street Journal showing how the expectations index has surged past the present conditions index in a manner similar to the 2003 bottom. Since confidence had sunk to such historic lows in recent months, like many other economic indicators, comparing recent developments to patterns seen in previous recessions may not provide all that much relevant insight.
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