msnbc.com news services
updated 12/27/2011 10:11:16 AM ET 2011-12-27T15:11:16

A monthly survey shows consumers' confidence in the economy in December surged to the highest level since April and is near a post-recession peak.

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The New York-based Conference Board says Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index rose almost 10 points to 64.5, up from a revised 55.2 in November. Analysts had expected 59.

The surge builds on another big increase in November, when the index rose almost 15 points from the month before.

Improving confidence is in line with retail reports of a decent holiday shopping season. Still, the December confidence reading is below the 90 level that indicates an economy on solid footing.

Economists watch the confidence numbers closely because consumer spending — including items like health care — accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

Story: Economists see growth picking up in new year

Labor market conditions have improved in recent months, with the unemployment rate falling to a 2-1/2 year low in November and applications for first time jobless benefits at the lowest since April 2008.

The survey's present situation index rose to 46.7 this month --- the highest since September 2008 -- from 38.3 in November. The expectations index surged to 76.4 from 66.4 in November.

"Consumers are more optimistic that business conditions, employment prospects and their financial situations will get better," the Conference Board said in a statement.

"While consumers are ending the year in a somewhat more upbeat mood, it is too soon to tell if this is a rebound from earlier declines or a sustainable shift in attitudes."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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