By Elizabeth Dexheimer
WASHINGTON - Consumer confidence in the U.S. climbed for a sixth straight week, the longest such stretch since early 2006, as Americans grew more secure about their finances.
The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose in the week ended Sept. 30 to minus 36.9, a three-month high, from minus 39.6 in the previous period. Households were also less pessimistic about the buying climate and the economy. Another report showed claims for jobless benefits increased last week from a two-month low.
Fifty percent of those surveyed had “positive” views of their finances, the most since July, helping explain a pickup in September chain-store sales that beat analysts’ forecasts. Higher home values, rising stocks and stable gasoline prices may be alleviating some of the anxiety caused by an unemployment rate stuck above 8 percent since February 2009.
“The improvement hasn’t been huge, but it’s definitely noticeable,” said Guy Berger, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Conn. “There feels like there’s a little more traction.”
First-time jobless claims climbed by 4,000 to 367,000 in the week ended Sept. 29, according to a report today from the Labor Department. A Labor Department report tomorrow may show employers took on 115,000 workers in September, more than the prior month, while the jobless rate rose to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent, according to the Bloomberg survey median.
Greater confidence may be helping sustain spending. Sales at stores open at least a year rose 3.9 percent, beating the average estimate of a 3.7 percent gain, a survey by Swampscott, Mass.-based Retail Metrics Inc. showed today.
Purchases at TJX Cos. climbed 6 percent, more than the average estimate for a 4.4 percent gain from analysts surveyed by researcher Retail Metrics. Target Corp., the second-largest U.S. discounter, posted a 2.1 percent increase. Retailers benefited from back-to-school promotions that drove traffic early in September before tapering off in the middle of the month.
Stocks held gains after the reports and as Europe’s central bank held the line on interest rates. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.7 percent to 1,460.85 at 12:25 p.m. in New York.
The European Central Bank kept its benchmark rate at 0.75 percent, as projected by 48 out of 52 economists in a Bloomberg survey.
Orders placed with U.S. factories fell in August by the most in more than three years, signaling that slowdowns in business investment and exports restrained the expansion, Commerce Department figures showed today. The 5.2 percent decrease in bookings was the biggest since January 2009 and followed a revised 2.6 percent increase.