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Washington - Consumer confidence in the United States climbed for a sixth straight week, the longest upswing since the end of 2005 into early 2006, as Americans grew more secure about their finances.
The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose in the week ended Sept. 30 to minus 36.9, a three-month high, from minus 39.6 in the previous period. The pickup also included less pessimism among households in their views on the buying climate and the economy.
"Americans are feeling a bit more optimistic given the strong increase in equity prices, the modest bounce in home prices and the paring down of debt," said Joseph Brusuelas, a senior economist at Bloomberg LP in New York.
Fifty percent of those surveyed had "positive" views of their finances, the most since July and a sign consumers will maintain their pace of spending. Higher home values, rising stocks and stable gasoline prices may be alleviating some of the anxiety caused by a labor market that's shown scant improvement.
A separate report Thursday showed more Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week. Jobless claims climbed by 4,000 to 367,000 in the week ended Sept. 29, according to the Labor Department.
All three of the comfort index's components improved. The barometer of the state of the economy rose to minus 68.7 from minus 70.3 the previous week. The index measuring Americans' views on their personal finances rose to minus 0.4, the highest since the end of July, from minus 3.6. Americans' views on the buying climate improved to minus 41.4 from minus 44.8 the previous week.
"While the trend is improving, challenges remain," said Gary Langer, president of New-York based Langer Research Associates, which compiles the index for Bloomberg. Eighty-four percent of Americans rate the economy negatively and 71 percent said they think it is a bad time to buy things they want and need.
The consumer comfort gauge averaged minus 41.6 in the third quarter, weaker than the first two quarters. Still, the average is better than any period from the second quarter of 2008 through the fourth quarter of 2011.
"We're finally seeing an uptick in consumer sentiment, consumer confidence," Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations at General Motors, said on a sales conference call on Tuesday. The company reported that its U.S. sales rose 1.5 percent in September from a year earlier.
Thursday's report is in line with other confidence indicators. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final sentiment index reached a four-month high in September. The Conference Board reported Sept. 25 that its confidence gauge rose to a seven- month high.
The Bloomberg survey showed Americans making more than $100,000 became confident in the economy for the first time in two months, climbing to 6.3 from minus 1.7.