Conference Board: Consumer Confidence Surges in Dec.

U.S. consumer confidence improved in December to the highest level since August, before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the U.S. Gulf and sent gasoline to record highs, a Conference Board survey showed Tuesday.

The Conference Board said its index of consumer sentiment rose in December to 103.6 from a November reading of 98.3, which had been downwardly revised from 98.9.

Economists polled by Reuters on average had forecast the index likely rose to 101.8.

"The resiliency of the economy, recent declines in prices at the pump and job growth have consumers feeling more confident at year-end than they felt at the start of 2005," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

The business research group's present situation index rose to 121.5 from a downwardly revised 113.2, while the expectations component increased to 91.6 from a downwardly revised 88.4 in November.

Consumers grew more optimistic about the jobs market at year-end, according to the Conference Board.

The survey's measure of the difficulty in finding jobs fell to 22.2 in December from an upwardly revised 23.6 in November, making this the lowest reading this year.

Sentiment indexes have traditionally been seen as a gauge of U.S. consumer spending, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of overall economic activity.