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Consumers feeling more confident about U.S. economy

WASHINGTON - U.S. consumer confidence surged in April, approaching the highest level since the recession began in 2007 as Americans reported greater optimism about their financial situation and the economy.

The University of Michigan says its index of consumer sentiment rose to 84.1 in April from 80 in March. That's just a point below the 85.1 reached last July, which was the highest in nearly seven years.

"The outlook for consumer sentiment is positive, but the key ingredient is the need for more momentum on consumer expectations,"said Chris Christopher Jr., director of consumer economics with research firm IHS Global Insight, in a client note. "As the economy improves and job prospects start looking brighter, so will consumer expectations and consumer mood."

Americans have cut back on debt and benefited from steady hiring and rising stock and home prices. Just 28 percent said this month that their finances were getting worse, down from 37 percent in March and the lowest level since April 2007.

People were also slightly more optimistic about future hiring, the survey found, though the gains were slight. After severe winter weather caused job-creation to slump in December and January, hiring has rebounded over the last three months.

Jim Baird, Chief Investment Officer for investment advisory firm Plante Moran Financial Advisors, thinks a recent uptick in wage growth could also raise consumer spirits, while noting that it remains to be seen if those gains will be sustained.

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