Consumer confidence rose to its highest level in five-and-a-half years amid optimism that the nation's economy is creating enough jobs, a private research group said Tuesday.

The New York-based Conference Board said that its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 112.5, up from a revised 110.2 in January. Analysts had expected the reading to be 109.

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The February index was the highest since August 2001, when the reading was 114, indicating that consumers will continue to fuel the nation's economic growth in the near future.

In a statement, Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said that "improving present-day business conditions and an easing in the proportion of consumers claiming jobs are hard to get have combined to lift consumers' spirits."

"All in all, it appears that the pace of economic growth exhibited in the final months of 2006 has carried over into early 2007 and may have even gained a little momentum," she added.

The Present Situation Index, which measures how shoppers feel now about economic conditions, increased to 139.0 from 133.9. The Expectations Index, which measures consumers' outlook in the next six months, edged up slightly to 94.8 from 94.4 last month.

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