The Conference Board today reported that its Consumer Confidence Index, which had declined in February, increased in March, as more Americans expect an improving job market in the coming months. The Index now stands at 107.2, up from 102.7 in January.

The present situation index rose to 133.3 from 130.3. The expectations index improved to 89.9 from 84.2 last month.

“This month’s gain in consumer confidence has pushed the Index to a near four-year high (May 2002, 110.3),” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. “The improvement in consumers’ assessment of present-day conditions is yet another sign that the economy gained steam in early 2006. Consumer expectations, while improved, remain subdued and still suggest a cooling in activity in the latter half of this year.”

Consumers’ overall assessment of current conditions remains favorable. Those claiming conditions are “good” rose to 28.3 percent from 26.4 percent. Those claiming conditions are “bad” declined to 14.7 percent from 15.4 percent. Current labor market conditions, however, remained mixed. Consumers saying jobs are “plentiful” increased to 28.4 percent from 27.4 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” moved up to 20.7 percent from 20.2 percent.

Consumers’ outlook for the next six months improved moderately in March. Consumers expecting business conditions to worsen decreased to 9.9 percent from 10.9 percent, while consumers expecting business conditions to improve increased to 18 percent from 16.2 percent.

The outlook for the labor market was also more positive. Those expecting fewer jobs to become available in the coming months decreased to 16.6 percent from 19.9 percent in February, while those expecting more jobs edged up to 13.9 percent from 13.4 percent. The proportion of consumers anticipating their incomes to increase in the months ahead held steady at 18.8 percent.

The Consumer Confidence Survey is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households.

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