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U.S. Consumer Confidence Inches Up in December

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Washington U.S. consumer confidence rose slightly in December due to an increase in short-term expectations, though consumers "remain far from optimistic," the Conference Board reported Thursday.

The consumer -confidence index rose to 88.6 from a revised reading of 87.8 in November. The initial estimate for November was 87.3.

The consumer outlook on business conditions, employment, inflation and stock prices "improved marginally," according to Lynn Franco, director of consumer research at the private Conference Board.

December's confidence reading is below last year's level of 110.0, as consumers have been concerned about higher energy prices and falling home prices.

The two sub-indexes in the Conference Board survey revealed a mixed picture of consumers' outlook as the economy shows signs of sluggish growth.

. The forward-looking sub-index that measures expectations for the next six months rose to 75.5 in December from 69.1 in November. But consumers' assessment of present conditions plunged to 108.3 points from a revised 115.7 points in November.

"While consumers are less negative about the near-term future, they remain far from optimistic," Franco said, adding that pessimists now outnumber optimists regarding the current job market.

Consumers' assessment of current conditions darkened. Those claiming conditions are "good" decreased to 20.3 percent from 22.5 percent, while those saying conditions are "bad" increased to 20.0 percent from 18.9 percent.

Their appraisal of the current job market was also less positive. Those saying jobs are "hard to get" rose to 23.5 percent from 21.4 percent, while those claiming jobs are "plentiful" declined to 22.7 percent from 23.3 percent in November.

Elsewhere Thursday, the Labor Department reported that seasonally adjusted first-time jobless claims nudged up in the most recent weekly data, while continuing claims reached the highest level in more than two years.

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