Confidence index climbs to highest level since 2000

A measure of consumer confidence has climbed to its highest level in more than 16 years on more upbeat assessments of present business and labor conditions as well as expectations for further improvement.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index rose 9.5 points to 125.6 in March. That’s the highest reading since the index stood at 128.6 in December 2000.

“Consumers feel current economic conditions have improved over the recent period, and their renewed optimism suggests the possibility of some upside to the prospects for economic growth in the coming months,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators for the Conference Board.

The business research and membership association bases the index on the results of monthly surveys. Economists monitor the index because consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of all economic activity.

For March, a part of the index tracking the present situation rose 8.7 points to 143.1.

The portion of consumers responding to the survey upon which the March index was based who described business conditions as “good” rose 3.9 points to 32.2 percent. The share of those characterized conditions as “bad” fell a half point to 12.9 percent.

The portion of consumers who called jobs “plentiful”  rose 4.8 points to 31.7 percent. The share of those who said jobs remain “hard to get” fell four-tenths of a points to 19.5 percent.

A component of the index tracking consumer expectations rose 9.9 points to 113.8 in March.

The share of consumers who said they expect business conditions to improve over the next six months rose 3.2 points to 27.1 percent. The proportion of those anticipating worsening conditions fell 2.1 points to 8.4 percent.

The share of those who expect more jobs to become available in coming months rose 3.9 points to 24.8 percent. The proportion of those forecasting fewer job openings fell 1.4 points to 12.2 percent.

While 21.5 percent of consumers responding to the latest survey said they expect their incomes to increase, up 2.3 points, 7 percent said they anticipate decreased incomes, down 1.1 points.