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American consumers were the most confident they had been in more than half a year in December, with signs of easing price pressures around the economy helping push inflation expectations to their lowest since last autumn.

The US consumer confidence index came in at 108.3 in December, from an upwardly revised 101.4 in November, the Conference Board reported on Tuesday, beating economist expectations of 101. A reading of 100 refers to 1985 levels.

December marks the index’s highest level since April and follows two consecutive months of declining confidence.

The improvement came as consumers held a “more favourable view regarding the economy and jobs,” said Lynn Franco, the Conference Board’s senior director of economic indicators.

Of particular note in the report, consumer inflation expectations receded to their lowest level since September 2021, “with recent declines in gas prices a major impetus,” Franco said.

The consumer confidence data helped give stocks a boost on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 rallying following the release of the report to be 1.7 per cent higher in morning trading.

Consumers made more plans to take holidays, but intentions to buy homes and big-ticket appliances continued to cool.

“This shift in consumers’ preference from big-ticket items to services will continue in 2023, as will headwinds from inflation and interest rate hikes,” Franco said.

The index’s two constituent metrics, the present situation index and the expectations index, both improved in December. The former, which tracks consumer perception of the current business and labour environment, rose by 8.9 points to 147.2, while the latter, which assesses consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and conditions increased 5.7 points after to 82.4.

“However, expectations are still lingering around 80 — a level associated with recession,” the Conference Board said.

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