The Conference Board, based in New York, said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index edged up to 49.5, up from a revised reading of 48.7 in October. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a reading of 47.7.
The index, which hit a historic low of 25.3 in February, had enjoyed a three-month climb from March through May, fueled by signs that the economy might be stabilizing. The road has been bumpier since June as rising unemployment has taken a toll on consumers. A reading above 90 means the economy is on solid footing. Above 100 signals strong growth.
One component of the Conference Board's confidence gauge that measures consumers' assessment of the current economy fell slightly to 21.0, compared with 21.1 in October. The other that measures shoppers' outlook over the next six months increased slightly to 68.5 from 67.0 in October.
"Income expectations remain very pessimistic and consumers are entering the holiday season in a very frugal mood," said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center in a statement.
Economists watch consumer sentiment because spending on goods and services for consumers accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity by federal measures.
While the reading doesn't always predict short-term spending, it does serve as a barometer of spending levels over time, especially for big-ticket items.