- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

[12:20 p.m.]

NEW YORK (AP) — Consumers shrugged off higher gasoline prices in April and sent a widely watched barometer of consumer confidence to its highest level in almost four years, a private research group said today.

But the Conference Board, a New York private research group, warned that if fuel prices continue to rise, that would cast a pall on consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity.

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index rose to 109.6, up from a revised 107.5 in March. April’s reading was the highest since the index touched 110.3 in May 2002. Analysts had expected a reading of 106.4.

Confidence has been on an upswing since November in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, except for a sharp dip in February when short-lived pessimism over the labor market soured consumer sentiment.

“Improving present-day conditions continue to boost consumers’ spirits,” said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center. “Recent improvements in the labor market have been a major driver behind the rise in confidence in early 2006. Looking ahead, consumers are not as pessimistic as they were last month.”

She added, however, that “while prices at the pump have yet to impact confidence, further increases could dampen consumers’ mood.”

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