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Low gas prices help push consumer optimism to decade high, survey finds

Consumer sentiment in the first quarter reached its highest level since the third quarter of 2004

Americans haven’t been this optimistic in a decade.

Consumer sentiment in the first quarter reached its highest level since the third quarter of 2004, in large part because of low gas prices, according to the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index, released Friday.

The report showed optimism dipped in March from a month earlier, but fell less than expected.

The slight pullback came as severe weather dimmed the optimism of lower income Americans, who are more sensitive to work disruptions and higher heating bills, the survey said.  A slight increase in gas prices also tempered optimism.

Still, Americans are far more confident than they were in March 2014. The university’s sentiment index was 93 in March, compared with 80 a year earlier. Although the economy slowed in the fourth quarter, the nation last year added the most new jobs since 1999.

University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin said consumer spending will likely pick up following the harsh weather.

“Expanding job opportunities as well as more favorable wage gains have meant that consumer spending will strongly rebound during the balance of the year,” he said in a statement.

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