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Consumer comfort in US climbed last week to three-month high

[WASHINGTON] Consumer confidence climbed last week to the highest level in more than three months as Americans held more favorable views about the buying climate and their finances.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index improved to 44.6 in the period ended Jan. 24 from 44 the prior week. The gauge, which is holding above the 2015 average of 42.9, has increased in seven of the last eight weeks after slumping at the end of November to a one-year low.

"We are off to not a bad start for the year - not a thrillingly good one, but certainly not a bad one," said Gary Langer, president of New York-based Langer Research Associates LLC, which compiles the data for Bloomberg. "It certainly makes life easier for many Americans when they are paying less for gasoline, when they are paying less for home heating fuel - those are positives."

Sustained confidence indicates households are looking past unsteady global markets that have dragged down stock prices. A resilient labor market, cheaper gasoline and rising home prices are keeping Americans upbeat about the prospects for the economy and incomes.

The buying-climate gauge rose to 40.2 last week, the second-highest level since May, from 39.2. The weekly measure of households' views of their personal finances rose 1.3 points to 56.3, the strongest reading since October and in line with the 2015 average. The index tracking current views of the economy eased to 37.2 from 37.7.

Sentiment rose to the highest since September among Americans with earnings between US$75,000 and US$100,000. Confidence improved among 35-to-54-year-olds, and women were more upbeat than at any time since October. Confidence improved in three of four regions, with those in the Midwest the most optimistic since March.

Other recent data have shown similar resilience in attitudes. The Conference Board's consumer confidence gauge climbed in January as Americans' expectations about the economy brightened and more households reported plans to buy cars and appliances.

Those figures also showed the proportion of consumers anticipating more job opportunities in the next six months increased and more respondents said they expected their incomes to grow.