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Consumer comfort in US climbs after falling record nine weeks

[WASHINGTON] Consumer confidence stabilized after falling a record nine straight weeks as Americans became less downbeat about the economy.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index increased to 40.9 in the period ended June 14 from 40.1 the prior week. A monthly measure tracking the economic outlook rose to 47.5 in June from 44 in May.

The recent decrease in weekly sentiment that extended back to early April coincided with rising fuel costs even as households benefited from improving labour and real estate markets. Persistent gains in gasoline prices, which have climbed this week to the highest since November, could thwart further advances in confidence.

"If that continues, this week's pause in the index's downward trajectory may not hold," Gary Langer, president of Langer Research Associates LLC in New York, which produces the data for Bloomberg, said in a statement.

"At the same time, other indicators may help; this week's thaw is buttressed by strengthening reports on jobs and the housing market."

The share of households who said the economy is getting worse fell to 33 percent in June from 39 a month earlier, the biggest improvement since October, according to the monthly expectations gauge.

Two of three components of the weekly index increased in the latest report. A measure of consumers' views on the state of the national economy increased to 33.7 this week from 32.1.

The buying climate gauge, which measures whether now is a good time to purchase goods and services, improved to 34.2 from 33.5 the week prior. The gauge of personal finances was little changed at 54.8 from 54.7.

Gasoline Prices Higher prices at the pump have weighed on consumers' views of buying conditions. The cost of a gallon of regular gasoline has averaged US$2.80 this week, up from a January low of US$2.03, according to auto group AAA.

Thursday's comfort data showed better job prospects are brightening moods of those looking for work. Sentiment among respondents who were unemployed rose to a five-week high. Employers added 280,000 jobs in May, the most in five months, according to the Labour Department.

Americans were also more upbeat last week, likely a reflection of the gains in stock prices this year. Comfort among those making more than US$100,000 a year climbed to a five- week high.

Three of four US regions showed a pickup in sentiment, with Americans in the South more upbeat than at any time in the last six weeks. Confidence in the West was the strongest in a month.

The Bloomberg Comfort Index, presented on a scale of zero to 100, is a four-week rolling average and based on a national sample of 1,000 adults. The report's gauges have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 points.

BLOOMBERG