By  on January 25, 2011

Consumers began the year in an upbeat mood, sending the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index up 7.3 points to 60.6, its best mark in eight months.

Both components of the Index also saw gains, with the Present Situation Index rising to 31 from 24.9 last month and the Expectations Index increasing to 80.3 from 72.3. The overall figure and Expectations numbers were the highest since May, when they stood at 62.7 and 84.6, respectively, and the Present Situation measure the highest since the 42.3 registered in November 2008, two months after the financial meltdown.

Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said, “Consumers rated business and labor market conditions more favorably and expressed greater confidence that the economy will continue to expand and generate more jobs in the months ahead. Income expectations are also more positive. Although pessimists still outnumber optimists, the gap has narrowed.”

Helping this month’s survey was a more positive outlook by consumers about the jobs picture, with those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead rising to 16 percent from 14.2 percent in December.

UBS economist Maury Harris said the improvement in confidence suggests that “consumer spending momentum will carry into [the first quarter], notwithstanding the initial weakness shown by store sales measures.”

In the latest Conference Board survey, those who said they anticipate an improvement in business conditions over the next six months rose to 19 percent from 16.8 percent in December, while the proportion of consumers who expect an increase in their incomes rose to 11.4 percent from 9.9 percent.

Also on Tuesday, a PricewaterhouseCoopers International study presented at the World Economic Forum showed that global business leaders’ view of growth prospects for their companies in the next year had returned to prerecession levels. “For the next 12 months, 48 percent of the [chief executive officers] are very confident of their prospects versus 31 percent a year ago,” Dennis Nally, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ chairman, said.

The survey, which included responses from 1,200 ceo’s from 69 nations, and Conference Board data helped lift retail stocks Tuesday. The S&P Retail Index recovered from a morning slump to gain 0.5 percent to 506.14. The Dow Jones Industrial Average came back from an earlier decline but fell short in moving into positive territory, declining less than 0.1 percent to 11,977.19.

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