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The U.S.

Consumer Confidence Index for February fell to its lowest level since June 1996 and came in below economists' consensus forecast.

The index fell to 106.8 from 115.7 in January. The consensus estimate called for a reading of 109.6.

Recent speeches by

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Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan suggest that the Fed is watching consumer confidence closely. The

Conference Board

said this morning the short-term outlook in the U.S. still signals the possibility of a "severe downtown" and "not a recession."