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Consumer confidence rose more than forecast in August

A statue of Huntington Station's most famous resident,

A statue of Huntington Station's most famous resident, Walt Whitman, stands guard outside the shopping mall that bears his name. Credit: David L. Pokress

Consumer confidence climbed more than forecast in August, reaching the second-highest level in eight years on more favorable views of the labor market.

The Conference Board's index rose to 101.5 in August from a revised July reading of 91, the New York-based private research group said Tuesday. The gauge exceeded the highest estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists, whose median forecast was 93.4. The cutoff date for the survey was Aug. 13, indicating the number didn't reflect the recent stock-market sell-off.

"Consumers' assessment of current conditions was considerably more upbeat, primarily due to a more favorable appraisal of the labor market," Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, said in a statement.

Americans remained emboldened by job gains, cheaper gasoline and rising home prices in the period leading up to a slump in stock prices as global financial markets took a turn for the worse. The risk for the economy is that households will reassess their spending plans as they wait for evidence the U.S. expansion can withstand such shocks.

August marked the second-highest sentiment reading since the same month in 2007. Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 89 to 96.5. The Conference Board's gauge averaged 96.9 during the last expansion and 53.7 during the recession that ended June 2009.

Another report Tuesday showed the S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values rose 5 percent in the 12 months ended in June after similar year-over-year gains in the previous three months.

The Conference Board's gauge of present conditions increased to 115.1 in August from 104 in the prior period. The share of Americans who said jobs were plentiful climbed to the highest level since January 2008.

The index of consumer expectations for the next six months rose to 92.5 from 82.3 in July.

The Conference Board's data showed Americans' assessments of future labor-market conditions also picked up. The proportion of consumers expecting more jobs to become available in the next six months rose to 14.6 percent from 13.7 percent in July.

Rocky market conditions may weigh on consumers' spirits. As of Monday, more than $5 trillion has been erased from the value of global equities since China unexpectedly devalued the yuan on Aug. 11, a rout that has investors questioning whether the U.S. can hold up in the face of weaker economies abroad.

Economy-watchers are speculating on whether the volatility will prompt the Federal Reserve to delay raising interest rates. In addition to its dual mandate of full employment and price stability, the central bank will likely weigh market conditions in its decision.

The fundamentals of the economy should lend some stability to the picture. Payrolls have climbed by an average 211,000 a month this year, while the unemployment rate lingers at a seven- year low, Labor Department data show.

Faster wage gains would go a long way in boosting Americans' confidence, though they've remained stubbornly restrained. Average hourly earnings climbed 2.1 percent in the year ended July, within the same narrow channel that employee pay has tracked since the recovery.


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