Ahead Of The Bell: US Consumer Confidence

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The private Conference Board reports on U.S. consumer confidence in September. Report released at 10 a.m. EDT Tuesday.

CONFIDENCE UNCHANGED: Economists expect consumer confidence was mostly unchanged this month. A reading of 81.4 is predicted, roughly the same as August's reading of 81.5, according to a survey by FactSet.

NEAR 5-YEAR HIGH: Consumer confidence, which is volatile from month to month, has been trending higher since bottoming out for the year in January at 58.43. It rose in June to a 5-year high of 82.1 and has stayed close to that level since.

STILL NOT HEALTHY: Consumers' confidence is closely watched because their spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. While confidence has bounced back from the depths of the Great Recession, it has yet to regain a reading of 90 that typically coincides with a healthy economy.

Consumers have stayed relatively upbeat this year, despite paying higher taxes and seeing little growth in wages. Confidence rose in August largely because many Americans were more hopeful that pay and hiring would improve in the coming months.

Still, recent data suggest economic growth may be slowing. Consumers spent more cautiously in August as their income barely grew. And higher interest rates are threatening to slow home sales, just as many markets are starting to recover.

The economy added 169,000 jobs in August, a modest gain but hardly enough to signal robust job growth. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.3 percent from 7.4 percent. But the decline was mostly because more people stopped looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed.

A weaker outlook for the rest of the year was a key reason the Federal Reserve decided last week to hold off on slowing its $85-billion-a-month in bond purchases. The bond purchases have kept longer-term interest rates low, making mortgages and other consumer loans more affordable. Many economists believe the Fed won't reduce the bond purchases until December at the earliest.

The economy has been held back this year by tax hikes, federal spending cuts and weaker global growth. It expanded at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the April-June quarter. But many economists say growth is slowing in the July-September quarter to an annual rate of 2 percent or less.

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