Consumer confidence at 3-year high

American consumers are more confident than at any time in the last three years thanks to better prospects for the economy and jobs, even as separate data on Tuesday showed house prices were still falling.

The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of consumer attitudes rose to 70.4 in February from a revised 64.8 in January.

Consumer confidence remains low by historical terms, but economists said they saw underlying strength in the numbers.

Anthony Chan, chief economist at J.P. Morgan Private Wealth Management, said improvements in views of the labor market bode well for consumer spending growth.

“It offers some encouraging words on the sustainability of consumer spending,” said Chan.

Consumer confidence was at its highest level since February 2008 and better than a forecast of 65 by economists.

The expectations index, which accounts for what consumers expect to see in six months, rose to its highest level since December 2006 at 95.1 from 87.3. The present situation index advanced to 33.4 from 31.1.

Consumers’ assessment of the labor market improved modestly, though the overall view of employment conditions was mixed.

U.S. stocks briefly cut losses after the data, but resumed sliding as financial markets were focused mostly on a revolt in oil producer Libya.

Oil prices rose to a 2-1/2-year high, highlighting a potential headwind for consumers if commodity prices continue to rise.

The Conference Board report showed consumers’ expectations for inflation in the coming 12 months were at their highest since June 2009, rising to 5.6 percent from 5.5 percent the month before.

Economists also noted a change in the survey’s data provider that prompted revisions back to November 2010.