NEW YORK - Consumer optimism about the U.S. economy surged to a 31-year high this month, buoyed by low unemployment and the wealth-creating effect of rising stock prices, Conference Board figures released Tuesday showed.

"The news just keeps getting better and better," said Phil Hill, an economist at in Jackson, Wyo. "There's no indication the economy's cooling off," he said, even after three interest rate increases this year by the Federal Reserve.

The consumer confidence index rose to 141.4 in December - topped only by a reading of 142.3 in October 1968 - from a revised 137 in November, the New York-based research group reported. Analysts had expected a December index of 135.2.

"Healthy pay checks, continued low inflation, and continued job opportunities will keep the economic expansion on a record-breaking course," said Lynn Franco, a Conference Board economist. "Consumers are in very good spirits as the 20th century comes to a close."

The Conference Board report showed that consumers are counting on the good times to last for at least the next six months. The expectations index rose to 114.7 in December, from a revised 110.4 the previous month. Consumer sentiment about current economic conditions rose to an all-time high of 181.5, from a revised 176.8 in November.

Of those surveyed, 29.1% said they expected their incomes to increase over the next six months, up from 28.3% the month before.

- Bloomberg News

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