Americans in November more confident about economy

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Americans’ confidence in the economy in November bounced back to its highest level since July, the latest sign that consumers are beginning to feel more cheerful about spending during the holiday shopping season.

The Conference Board, a private research firm, says Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index rose 15 points to 56.0. That’s up from a revised 40.9 in October — the lowest level since the recession — and the biggest jump since the 59.2 reading in July. The November number is encouraging, but far below the reading of 90, which indicates an economy on solid footing.

The confidence numbers are widely watched by economists because consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. The confidence of U.S. consumers has slipped amid renewed fears about a second recession. But Americans, who have been grappling with high unemployment and a weak housing market, have shown that they are feeling much more comfortable spending. Over the past weekend, for instance, they spent more than they ever have during the four-day start of the holiday shopping season.

“Consumers appear to be entering the holiday season in better spirits, though overall readings remain historically weak,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center in a statement.

Franco noted that consumers’ assessment of current conditions improved after six months of steady declines. Consumers’ anxiety regarding the short-term outlook for business conditions, jobs and income prospects eased considerably.

One barometer of the index, which measures how shoppers feel now, rose to 38.3 from 27.1. The other gauge, which measures how shoppers say they will feel over the next six months, rose to 67.8 from 50.0.

Consumers have some reason to be more confident. Earlier this month, for instance, the Labor Department reported that the job market improved modestly as unemployment rate nudged down to 9 percent in October from 9.1 percent in September. The month marked the 13th consecutive month of job gains.