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Consumers Send A Somewhat Mixed Message

The Conference Board's consumer confidence index moved close to a four-year high this month, with the U.S. buying public seemingly less concerned with high gasoline prices and the continuing war in Iraq than are some economic forecasters.

The overall index now stands at 107.2 (1985=100), up from 102.7 in February. Its recent high was 110.3 in May 2002.

Both the present situation index and the expectations index increased. The present situation index rose to 133.3 this month, up from 130.3 in February. The expectations index rose to 89.9 from 84.2.

"The improvement in consumers' assessment of present-day conditions is yet another sign that the [U.S.] economy gained steam in early 2006," says Lynn Franco director of the consumer research center at the Conference Board, a New York-based business research group. However, she notes, "Consumer expectations, while improved, remain subdued and still suggest a cooling in activity in the latter half of this year."

The consumer confidence index is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households.

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