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Consumer comfort rises as Americans turn more upbeat on economy

[WASHINGTON] Consumer confidence climbed to a 12-week high, boosted by improving household attitudes about the state of the economy.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to 44.2 in the week ended Jan. 3 from 43.6 in the prior period. It marked the fifth straight increase and left the gauge at the highest level since Oct. 11.

The gain was propelled by the index tracking Americans' views on the state of the economy, which advanced to 37, the highest level since late April, from 34.5. A gauge of consumers' views on personal finances rose for a fourth consecutive week, to 56.2 from 55.6.

The buying climate index slipped to 39.4 last week from 40.6.

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The gain in sentiment was led by more optimism in the Northeast and the Midwest, where it climbed to a six-month high. Confidence was little changed in the South and fell to a seven- week low in the West.

The report also showed that sentiment of households earning at least $50,000 a year matched its highest point since August 2007, months before the last recession began.

Steady gains in the labor market may be helping to burnish consumers' views on the economy. Employers probably added about 200,000 workers to payrolls in December, according to the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg before the Friday report. That would mean roughly 2.5 million people were hired in 2015.

The Bloomberg consumer comfort measure is in line with other gauges that show household attitudes ended the year on a bright note. The latest index from the University of Michigan showed sentiment rose in December to a five-month high as low prices supplemented income gains and made consumers feel more comfortable buying big-ticket items such as autos and appliances.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board's confidence measure rebounded more than forecast last month as Americans grew more upbeat about the economy and job market.