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Consumers cheer

New York — The speedy resolution of the war in Iraq clearly cheered Americans and drove consumer confidence levels surging during March by the biggest one-month gain since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Reversing months of steady and steep declines, the bellwether Consumer Confidence Index compiled by The Conference Board jumped up by 31.9 percent to a level of 81.0, the highest reading since last November.

"The swift outcome in the Middle East has helped quell consumers' short-term concerns," said Lynn Franco, director of the business think tank's Consumer Research Center.

Strikingly, Franco noted, consumers now feel better about both current and future conditions, especially about the job market. And that, she said, could trigger a rebound in consumer spending.

"While an increase of this magnitude occurred after the Persian Gulf War in 1991, this post-war surge differs in that both components of the Index posted gains." Specifically, she said, "the increase in the Present Situation Index, especially in labor market conditions, may very will signal a turnaround in confidence and a more favorable outlook for consumer spending."

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