WASHINGTON -- Consumer confidence rose slightly in August to a three-month high as people reported feeling more optimistic about their current situation, according to a leading barometer released Friday.
The Consumer Sentiment index from Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan increased to 74.3 in August, a 2.8% increase from July. The gain was driven by a jump in how consumers view their present situation, which was up 7.3% from the previous month.
That increase offset a slight drop of 0.8% in how consumers expect the economy to perform in the year ahead, driven by fears about tax increases and government spending cuts that will kick in starting in January if Congress does not act.
“Despite the August gain, confidence has been in a holding pattern during the past few months,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist for the survey. “Aside from the past few years, the average level of consumer confidence in 2012 was lower than in any other year since 1982.”
The findings released Friday contrasted with another leading gauge of consumer confidence. The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its consumer confidence index fell in August to its lowest level since November.
But both indexes reported consumer concern about the major tax and spending changes looming early next year, dubbed the fiscal cliff.
Curtin said the uncertainty about fiscal policy in 2013 “will increasingly cause consumers to become more cautious spenders.”