Consumers more upbeat headed in 2012

A monthly measure of consumer confidence has returned to its highest level since April, but it’s not yet certain if recent gains reflect a long-term change in attitudes.

“While consumers are ending the year in a somewhat more upbeat mode, it is too soon to tell if this is a rebound from earlier declines or a sustainable shift in attitudes,” said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

The Conference Board, a business research and membership group, reported that its Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) rose more than nine points in December to 64.5. With a combined gain of more than 24 in the past two months, the CCI now stands at its highest level since hitting 66 in April.

The CCI reflects the results of monthly surveys of U.S. households. Economists closely monitor the index because consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of all economic activity in the country.

Consumers responding to the surveys upon which the December CCI was based were more upbeat in both their assessments of current business and labor conditions as well as their outlooks for the next six moths.

The present situation component of the index advanced more than eight points to 46.7, while the expectations component advanced 10 points to 76.4.

The share of consumers who deemed current business conditions as “good” rose nearly three points to 16.6 percent. The share of those who said conditions were “bad” fell more than four points to 33.9 percent.

The proportion of consumers who called jobs “plentiful” edged up more than a point to 6.7 percent, while the proportion of those who said jobs are “hard to get” fell more than a point to 41.8 percent.

Looking ahead, the share of consumers who expect business conditions to improve jumped three points to 16.7 percent, while the share of those who expect conditions to worsen dropped almost three points to 13.4 percent.

The proportion of consumers who believe more jobs will become available in the months ahead advanced nearly a point to 13.3 percent, while the proportion of those who anticipate fewer jobs retreated almost four points to 20.2 percent.

The share of consumers who expect an increase in their incomes climbed three points to 17.1 percent.