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Consumer confidence rebounds strongly in December following three months of sharp decline

NEW YORK (AP) _ Consumer confidence rose sharply in December following three months of dramatic decline, as the erosion of the economy and job market appeared to begin leveling off.

The New York-based Conference Board said Friday that its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 93.7 this month from a revised 84.9 in November. Analysts were expecting a reading of 83 for December. The original November reading was 82.2.

The index, based on a monthly survey of some 5,000 U.S. households, is closely watched because consumer confidence drives consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.

``The deterioration in current economic conditions appears to be reaching a plateau, led by a stabilizing employment scenario,'' said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's research center.

The increase, she said, suggested that an economic recovery is possible by the middle of next year and that the worst of the downturn may be over.

The index compares results with its base year, 1985, when it stood at 100. The November figure was the lowest since February 1994, when it reached 79.9.

The percentage of consumers who expect business conditions to improve rose to 22.2 percent in December from 17.7 percent in November, the report said. Those expecting conditions to sour declined to 11.6 percent from 16.9 percent.

Consumers' outlook about jobs also improved. In December, 16.1 percent said they expect more jobs to become available in the next six months, up from 14.4 percent in November. Those expecting fewer jobs to open up decreased from 26.3 percent to 19.3 percent.

The Conference Board is a nonprofit research and business group, with more than 2,700 corporate and other members around the world.
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