Reporting from Washington — Turmoil is spreading through the Middle East, the federal budget deficit is soaring and housing prices are falling, but consumers still feel as though things are better than they have been in three years, according to one closely watched measure.
The consumer confidence index from the Conference Board jumped in February to its highest point since February 2008, in the early days of the deep recession and before the financial crisis hit, the nonprofit business research group said Tuesday.
The moderate increase reflects growing optimism about the economy's short-term outlook, said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center. But she cautioned that assessment in the monthly survey was still "rather weak."
The index measures the perceptions of consumers about current business and employment conditions and their expectations for the next six months. February's 70.4 rating, up from 64.8% in January, still is well below the reading of 90 that indicates a healthy economy. But the new rating is a major improvement from the record low of 25.3 in February 2009.