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Consumer confidence rebounds in March

By Annalyn Censky, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A key measure of consumer confidence rose in March after a sharp fall the month before, a research group said Tuesday.

The Conference Board, a New York-based research group, said its Consumer Confidence index rose to 52.5 in March from 46.0 in February.

Economists surveyed by Briefing.com were expecting the index to rise to 51. A reading of above 90 indicates a stable economy, while 100 or greater signals strong growth. The Consumer Confidence Index is closely monitored because consumer spending drives two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.

The slight increase in March after February's slip signals that consumers are less pessimistic about the economy, although they're not entirely optimistic either, observers say.

"The bounceback is basically in line with expectations, and the underlying details were pretty decent," said Adam York, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities. "At least it gives us some feeling that consumers are feeling a little better about the job market."

Indeed, consumers were less pessimistic about jobs than the month before, with 45.8% claiming jobs were "hard to get," down slightly from 47.3% in February. Still, only 4.4% said jobs were "plentiful," up from 4% the month before.

"Until we begin to see sustainable turnaround in the labor market, we're not going to experience the same in consumer confidence," said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. "If we begin to add jobs, that's going to go a long way toward boosting confidence levels and alleviate some concern about income."

The index showed more optimism on that front, as the number of consumers who anticipate more jobs opening up in the months ahead rose, and the number of those expecting fewer jobs fell.

The latest confidence numbers come on the heels of a separate report Monday that showed personal spending rose for a fifth straight month in February.

The confidence index, which is based on a survey of 5,000 households, has been recovering slowly, but steadily for the most part, since reaching a record low of 25.3 in February 2009. Its downward blip last month was likely due to weather and concerns about Greece's debt, analysts said.

Consumer confidence in March was also boosted by a slight increase in the component that measures consumer attitudes about the economy right now. The number of consumers who describe current business conditions as "bad" decreased to 42.8% from 45.1% in February. That said, only 8.6% say conditions are "good."

The number of consumers expecting business conditions to worsen over the next six months edged down to 13.9% in March, and the number of those expecting to see an improvement increased to 18.3%. To top of page

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