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US Consumer Confidence Reaches 6-Month High

New statistics show that consumer confidence in the United States edged up for the month of May, reaching a six-month high. The moderate increase is mixed news for the U.S. economy

The Conference Board, a private business research group, has released its latest monthly index for consumer confidence showing a modest gain of almost three points in May. The figures are part of a six-month trend in which consumer expectations for an economic rebound have slowly, but steadily, risen.

In April, the consumer confidence index jumped 20 points after a quick end to the war in Iraq. Lynn Franco, director of consumer research at the Conference Board, says the good news on the economic front is that consumer expectations and the housing market are up.

"Housing has remained strong and I think historically low mortgage rates are really acting as a plus," said Ms. Franco. "Consumers see that as a great market. Plus, given where the stock market and financial markets are, they also are looking for safer investment havens and housing does provide that."

But Ms. Franco says labor-market worries are tempering consumers optimism about overall business conditions.

"Consumers are telling us that jobs were more difficult to find in May as opposed to April. They do expect somewhat of an improvement somewhere down the road," she pointed out. "But as long as these current labor-market conditions remain a sore spot, we are not going to see a big pickup in spending patterns."

Lynn Franco says the most recent figures indicate that consumers remain cautiously optimistic about improvements in the economy.

The Conference Board bases its monthly index on samples of 5,000 households.