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Consumer confidence surges, but outlook mixed

New York -- Reversing a deep slide in February, consumer confidence surged ahead by 4.4% in March to its highest level in almost four years -- since May 2002 -- the Conference Board reported.

The bellwether of future consumer spending jumped up to a reading of 107.2 from 102.7 the month before, with consumers feeling good about current business conditions, but only slightly better about the outlook going forward.

"The improvement in consumers' assessment of present-day conditions is yet another sign that the economy gained steam in early 2006," said Lynn Franco, director of the business think tank's Consumer Research Center .

But looking ahead, she said, "Consumer expectations, while improved, remain subdued, and still suggest a cooling in activity in the latter half of this year."

The jobs outlook improved somewhat during March, with the number of consumers who expect fewer jobs to become available in coming months declining to 16.6% from 19.9%. Buying plans for the next six months were mixed, with more consumers saying they plan to buy homes, carpets and major appliances, but fewer planning to buy cars.

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