Healthy job market lifts consumer confidence in December

WASHINGTON - A stronger job market lifted consumer confidence in December, a business group said Tuesday.

The Conference Board's consumer confidence index rose to 96.5 this month from November's revised 92.6.

Americans were more optimistic about current conditions and about the future.

"As 2015 draws to a close, consumers' assessment of the current state of the economy remains positive, particularly their assessment of the job market," said Lynn Franco, the group's director of economic indicators.

More than two-thirds of consumers said they expected interest rates to rise over the next year, highest share since August 2013. On Dec. 16, the Federal Reserve raised the short-term interest rate it controls for the first time since 2006.

Hiring has been healthy in 2015. Employers are adding an average of 210,000 jobs a month through November. Unemployment has stayed at a seven-year low 5 percent for two straight months. Confidence had dipped unexpectedly in November and this month remained below readings around 100 from August through October.

"U.S. consumers regained a bit of their swagger in December," Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a research report. She noted that confidence rebounded the most among young households (those headed by someone younger than 35), potentially a sign that more first-time homebuyers are ready to enter the housing market.

Another gauge of Americans' mood -- the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index -- rose this month to the highest level since July. The Michigan index rose to 92.6 in December from 91.3 last month. It has averaged 92.9 in 2015, the highest annual average in 11 years. The Michigan survey finds that Americans are pleased with low inflation, including low gasoline prices, which boosts their purchasing power.

The average U.S. gasoline price is staying near $2 a gallon, lowest holiday season price since 2009, according to AAA.