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Consumer comfort in US holds close to a three-month high

[WASHINGTON] Consumer comfort in the first week of February held close to a three-month high as Americans grew more upbeat about the buying climate.

The 44.5 reading in the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index during the period ended Feb 7 was little changed from 44.2 the prior week. A measure of whether it's a good time to spend advanced to the highest in nine months, while a gauge tracking views on the economy dropped for a fourth week.

The improvement in attitudes about the buying climate, reflecting falling gasoline prices and more job security, may encourage households to boost spending. At the same time, Americans' attitudes about the economy have dimmed as stock prices retreat on the heels of weaker global markets.

"Low inflation and 4.9 per cent unemployment are positives for consumers," said Gary Langer, president of New York-based Lager Research Associates LLC, which compiles the data for Bloomberg. "But the market's poor start to 2016 and the weak Q4 GDP report - including a deceleration in personal income growth - push back." As employers continue to add to headcounts, workers are starting to see bigger wage gains. The jobless rate fell to an eight-year low of 4.9 per cent in January and hourly pay rose by the most in a year, Labour Department figures showed last week.

The measure tracking whether Americans think it's a good time to make purchases climbed to 41.9 from 40.6, marking the third straight weekly advance. The weekly gauge of consumers' views of their personal finances rose to 56.1 from 55.5. The measure of views on the current state of the economy dropped 1 point to a six-week low of 35.5.

Confidence among those with full-time jobs rose to the highest level since mid-April. By income group, sentiment increased the most for those earning between US$40,000 and US$50,000. Expectations brightened in two of the four regions, with Americans in the South the most upbeat since the end of October.