By John S. McClenahen By week's end manufacturers will have a better idea of whether badly depressed U.S. consumer confidence is starting to rise. The Conference Board, a New York-based business research group, reported yesterday that, following five months of decline, its consumer confidence index for March rose to 117.0, a dozen percentage points above the consensus forecast for this month. On Friday, the University of Michigan weighs in with its own measure of consumer sentiment. In the meantime, UBS/PaineWebber's Maury Harris notes that the confidence level of U.S. consumers remains relatively low. A year ago, for example, the Conference Board's index was at 137.0, 20 percentage points higher than it is now. What's more, Harris is not changing his expectations for more interest-rate easing by the Federal Reserve. "We still forecast that the Fed will cut [the federal funds rate] another 50 basis points before the May 15 Federal Open Market Committee meeting and another 100 basis points by mid-year."