Measure of consumer confidence rises as economy picks up

Consumer confidence rose in December as the economy improved, according to the Conference Board's index

Amid signs the economic recovery is finally kicking into high gear, consumers grew slightly more confident this month, according to one key measure.

Fewer U.S. consumers saw business conditions as bad in December, while more reported that jobs were plentiful, the Conference Board said Tuesday. The organization’s consumer confidence index rose to 92.6, up from 91 in November.

The reading was slightly less than the 93 level economists expected, according to FactSet.

After a slow start to the year, the U.S. economy is ending 2014 on a high note. The nation posted its strongest growth in more than a decade last quarter, and the economy this year is on pace to add the most new jobs since 1999.

As the job market has improved, gas prices have plunged, giving consumers more money to spend or save. The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in California was $2.655 Tuesday, about a dollar cheaper than last year, according to the Auto Club.

The recent positive news drove views of current economic conditions up significantly from November, with that index climbing from 93.7 to 98.6. Those who said jobs were plentiful increased to 17.1%, from 16.2%

Optimism, however, faded when Americans looked to the future.

The percentage of consumers who expect more jobs in the coming months fell from 15.5% to 14.7%. The percentage of people expecting their incomes to rise also ticked down.

The Conference Board’s Expectations Index dropped to 88.5 from 89.3 in November.

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