Consumer confidence rose in November to the highest level in more than four years, a sign U.S. household spending will keep growing.
The Conference Board’s confidence index climbed to 73.7, the highest since February 2008, from a revised 73.1 reading the prior month, figures from the New York-based private research group showed today. The median forecast of 75 economists surveyed by Bloomberg projected a reading of 73.
The report showed the share of Americans planning to buy a house rose to a record high, indicating improving property values and a job market recovery are making households more willing to make long-term commitments. Sustained gains in consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, may help overcome concern over the fiscal cliff of tax increases and government spending cuts slated for early 2013.
“Confidence is holding up well,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. in New York, who projected the confidence measure would climb to 74. “Spending is going to continue to increase. This bodes well for the fourth quarter.”
Other reports today signaled business investment may rebound and home prices are climbing.
Demand for goods such as machinery and electronics climbed in October by the most in five months, the Commerce Department reported. Bookings for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a proxy for future business investment, rose 1.7 percent last month, the most since May.
Property values rose in the year ended September by the most since July 2010, according to data from S&P/Case-Shiller. The index of home prices in 20 cities climbed 3 percent from September 2011, after advancing 2 percent in the year to August.
The gain in confidence may have been restrained by a plunge in the Middle Atlantic region, the area covering New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania that was most affected by superstorm Sandy. That area’s index plunged 14.6 points to a three-month low of 54.2. Seven of eight other regions saw confidence increase, the report showed, with the Mountain area being little changed.
Shares fell on concern about the budget negations in Washington. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropped 0.4 percent to 1,401.24 at 10:38 a.m. in New York.
Consumers are benefiting as record-low mortgage rates drive a recovery in housing. Sales of previously owned homes unexpectedly climbed in October, and the median price rose 11.1 percent from a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Estimates for consumer confidence ranged from 65 to 79.1 in the Bloomberg survey of 75 economists. The measure averaged 53.7 during the recession that ended in June 2009.
The Conference Board’s measure of present conditions was little changed at 56.6 this month from 56.7 in October. The gauge of expectations for the next six months rose to 85.1 from 84.
The share of consumers who said jobs are currently plentiful increased to 11.2 percent, the most since September 2008, from 10.4 percent. Those who said jobs are hard to get were little changed at 38.8 percent.
The percent of respondents expecting more jobs to become available in the next six months increased to 20.3, the highest since February 2011, from 19.7 the previous month.
The share planning to buy a house within the next six months jumped to 6.9 percent, the most in data going back to 1964. The previous all-time high was 5.5 percent.
Among other measures, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index climbed in November to a five- year high, while the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index last week hovered near the strongest point in seven months.
Thanksgiving Day openings and midnight deals at chains from Target Corp. (TGT) to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) drew shoppers. Spending in stores and online rose 13 percent to $59.1 billion in the four days starting Nov. 22, the National Retail Federation reported. A year ago, sales advanced 16 percent over the holiday weekend.
Gap Inc. (GPS), the biggest U.S. specialty-apparel retailer, saw busy stores on Black Friday as customers responded to offers of $19 sweaters and $5 kids and baby graphic Ts from midnight to noon.
“We’re encouraged by what we’re seeing out there,” Mark Breitbard, president of Gap’s North America division for its namesake brand, said in a telephone interview on Nov. 23.
Fuel prices close to the lowest level since mid-July are offering respite to budget-conscious households. The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline at the pump has fallen 10 percent in the past two months to reach $3.42 on Nov. 26, according to AAA, the nation’s biggest motoring organization.
Business sentiment has been stagnating as the year-end deadline for automatic fiscal tightening approaches. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week that an agreement on ways to reduce long-term federal budget deficits could remove an impediment to growth, while failure to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff would pose a “substantial threat” to the recovery.
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