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Consumer confidence rises in August

By Annalyn Censky, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A key measure of consumer morale made a surprising turn higher in August, but Americans still feel jittery about the economy.

The Consumer Confidence Index rose to 53.5 in August, from July's upwardly revised level of 51.0, the Conference Board, a New York-based research group that compiles the index, said Tuesday.

The rise follows two months of losses and beats the drop to 50 that economists surveyed by Briefing.com were expecting. But the index is still painfully low, falling far below 90 -- a level that typically indicates a stable economy.

"Markets are broadly interpreting this as an improvement in the economy, but overall consumer confidence is still very, very bad," said Tim Quinlan, an economist with Wells Fargo. "We went from being severely depressed about the outlook, to just being depressed about the outlook."

While the uptick means consumers' short-term outlook for the economy has improved slightly, a weak job market continues to weigh on their attitudes, Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center said in a statement.

"Expectations about future business and labor market conditions have brightened somewhat, but overall, consumers remain apprehensive about the future. All in all, consumers are about as confident today as they were a year ago," Franco said.

After stocks fell earlier in the morning, they rose as soon as the consumer confidence number was reported Tuesday -- mainly because the measure beat expectations.

Before the down streak started in June, the index had risen for three straight months. But as unemployment remained high throughout the summer and various economic reports brought downbeat data, fears about a slowdown and even a double-dip recession had depressed morale in June and July

Daniel Penrod, senior industry analyst for the California Credit Union League, said that the report jibes with what he's seeing on Main Street, as consumers are saving up for the future but not significantly increasing their current spending.

"There's a feeling that we are moving forward slowly, but the opportunities are down the road, they're not right now," he said. "People are looking six to 12 months ahead."

Jobs will remain the key driver behind morale, he said. The index showed 45.7% of consumers still feel jobs are "hard to get" in August, a minor uptick from July.

The government's closely watched jobs report due on Friday is expected to reinforce that view. Economists forecast a loss of 120,000 jobs in August, following the decline of 131,000 in July, and an increase in the unemployment rate to 9.6% from 9.5%. To top of page

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