February consumer confidence jumps to 70.4 (by Ruth Mantell)
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- An index of U.S. consumer confidence jumped to 70.4 in February, reaching the highest level in three years, with more optimism about the future, while views on current conditions remain weak, the Conference Board reported Tuesday. "Looking ahead, consumers are more positive about the economy and their income prospects, but feel somewhat mixed about employment conditions," Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's consumer research center, in a statement. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected a confidence reading of 66. The report for February is the first using a new survey provider, but the questions were unchanged. Data have been restated back to November, but older data can be compared with new results, according to the Conference Board. A barometer of consumers' expectations rose to 95.1 in February - the highest level since December of 2006 -- from 87.3 in January. Meanwhile, consumers' assessment of the present situation increased to 33.4 from 31.1. The Conference Board's index helps analysts compare fluctuations in confidence, with a reading of 100 for the base year of 1985. Generally when the economy is growing at a good clip, confidence readings are at 90 and above.