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Consumers puffing their chests


Consumer confidence rose more than forecast in April to its highest level since before the collapse of credit markets late last year.

The Reuters/University of Michigan final index of consumer sentiment rose to 65.1, the second straight gain, from 57.3 in March. The index reached a three-decade low of 55.3 in November, Bloomberg reported.

Record low mortgage rates, cheap gasoline and surging stock prices are providing some relief to American consumers in the face of mounting unemployment and tumbling home prices. Improved confidence may keep consumers spending, helping pull the economy out of its slump in the second half of the year, Bloomberg said.

“The shell-shocked consumer of late last year is feeling a little calmer nerves and a little more willing and able to spend,” Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Pittsburgh, said before the report.

Economists had projected that the Michigan sentiment index would rise to 61.9, according to the median of 52 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. Forecasts ranged from 57.3 to 63.

The expectations gauge — which more closely predicts the direction of consumer spending — rose to 63.1 from 53.5 in March. A measure of current conditions, which reflects Americans’ perceptions of their financial situation and whether it’s a good time to buy expensive items such as cars, increased to 68.3 from 63.3.

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