Index: Consumers mostly confidence heading into new year

U.S. consumers remain mostly upbeat heading into the new year, according to the latest results of a monthly index tracking their assessments of business and labor conditions.

The Conference Board reported that its Consumer Confidence Index rose 3.9 points to 96.5 in December. Measures of current conditions and the short-term outlook both improved.

“As 2015 draws to a close, consumers’ assessment of the current state of the economy remains positive, particularly their assessment of the job market. Looking ahead to 2016, consumers are expecting little change in both business conditions and the labor market. Expectations regarding their financial outlook are mixed, but the optimists continue to outweigh the pessimists,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators for the Conference Board.

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

For December, more optimistic consumer assessments of current conditions pushed up the present situation component of the index 4.4 points to 115.3.

The proportion of consumers responding to the survey upon which the latest index was based who described business conditions as “good” rose 2.3 points to 27.3 percent. However, the share of those who characterized conditions as “bad” climbed 2.9 points to 19.8 percent.

The proportion of consumers who said jobs are “plentiful” increased 3.1 points to 24.1 percent, while the share of those who said jobs are “hard to get” decreased 1.1 points to 24.7 percent.

Consumers also were more upbeat in their outlook for job growth, pushing up the expectations component of the index 3.5 points to 83.9.

The share of consumers who expect business conditions to improve over the next three to six months actually edged down a half point to 15.2 percent. The proportion of those anticipating worsening conditions edged up four-tenths of a point to 11 percent

The share of consumers who expect more jobs to become available in coming months rose nine-tenths of a point to 12.9 percent. The proportion of those anticipating fewer jobs fell 1.9 points to 16.6 percent.

While 16.3 percent of consumers said they expect their incomes to increase, down a point, 9.7 percent anticipate lower incomes, down 2.1 points.