An index measuring consumer confidence rose for the first time in five months in December, The Conference Board reported, while a separate index that measures job offerings in major U.S. newspapers fell 1 point in November after a two-point drop in October.

The Consumer Confidence Index, which is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households, stood at 88.6 in December — up from 87.8 in November. The overall index was boosted by a rise in the Expectations Index, which measures consumers’ short-term expectations. That index gauge rose to 75.5 from 69.1 in November. The number of consumers expecting business conditions to worsen in the next six months fell to 14.1 percent in December from 16.6 percent in November, while those anticipating an improvement in business conditions rose from 12.4 percent in November to 13.8 percent in December.

But the Present Situation Index, which is a gauge of consumer sentiment about present-day conditions, dropped from 115.7 in November to 108.3 in December. The share of consumers claiming conditions are “good” dropped from 22.5 percent in November to 20.3 percent in November, while the share that say conditions are “bad” rose from 18.9 percent in November to 20 percent in December.

Those consumers who say jobs are “hard to get” increased from 21.4 percent in November to 23.5 percent in December, while those who say jobs are “plentiful” fell from 23.3 percent in November to 22.7 percent in December.

Says Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement, “Consumers’ short-term outlook regarding business conditions, employment, inflation and stock prices improved marginally. However, while consumers are less negative about the near-term future, they remain far from optimistic. In assessing the current job market, pessimists now outnumber optimists. Regarding business conditions, the gap between the two is almost nonexistent.”

The percent of consumers expecting job gains in the months ahead rose from 10.6 percent in November to 11.2 percent in December, while the share of consumers who expect fewer jobs dropped from 22.8 percent in November to 19.9 percent in December.

The Conference Board also reported that its Help-Wanted Advertising Index, which measures the volume of help-wanted print advertising in 51 U.S. newspapers, dropped from 22 in October to 21 in November. The index stood at 29 in November 2006.

Help-wanted advertising declined in all nine U.S. regions in September, October and November, with a 12.8 percent decline in the Pacific region, a 12.5 percent decline in the Mountain region and a 12.4 percent decline in the West North Central region. Ad volume has proven to be sensitive to labor market conditions, and the index provides a gauge in the change in the supply of jobs.

“The forward indicators of labor market activity offer little hope that the labor market will be spared,” said Ken Goldstein, labor economist at The Conference Board, in a statement.

“The latest readings on print want-ad volume show some slowing in recent months, after slowly losing steam through the spring and summer. Data for online advertising also point to reduced job recruitment efforts. Initial unemployment claims have edged higher. It’s not good news when more people are signing up for unemployment checks, and the average length of unemployment is lengthening. The (job openings and labor turnover data) also showed remarkably little change through October. These forward indicators of labor market activity are consistent with slowing growth.”

There were 4.07 million online advertised vacancies, a 2.1 percent drop from the October level. And there were 2.65 advertised vacancies online for every 100 persons in the labor force in November, The Conference Board reported.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com, or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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