The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index, which increased in November and December, improved again in January. The index stands at 55.9, up from 53.6 last month. The baseline for the index, set in 1985, is 100.

Consumers' assessment of current conditions was, on the whole, more positive than last month. Those stating that business conditions are "good" increased to 9.0% from 7.5%, however, those stating business conditions are "bad" increased to 46.1% from 45.7%. Consumers' assessment of the labor market improved moderately. Those claiming jobs are "hard to get" declined to 47.4% from 48.1%, while those claiming jobs are "plentiful" increased to 4.3% from 3.1%.

The survey of 5,000 randomly selected households breaks down how consumers feel about both current conditions in the Present Situation Index and short-term conditions, looking roughly six months ahead, in the Expectations Index. United Kingdom-based research company TNS conducts the monthly confidence survey for The Conference Board.

Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board's Consumer Research Center, said overall confidence was up primarily because of the improvement in the Present Situation Index, which rose to 25.0 in January from 20.2 in December.

The Expectations Index increased to 76.5 from 75.9 a month earlier. "Consumers' short-term outlook, while moderately more positive, does not suggest any significant pickup in activity in the coming months," Franco says. "Regarding their financial situation, while consumers were less dire about their income prospects than in December, the number of pessimists continues to outnumber the optimists."

The percentage of consumers expecting an improvement in business conditions over the next six months decreased to 20.9% from 21.2%, while those anticipating conditions will worsen increased to 12.7% from 11.8%.

Regarding the outlook for the labor market, those expecting fewer jobs decreased to 18.9% from 20.6%. However, those expecting more jobs to become available in the months ahead declined to 15.5% from 16.4%. The proportion of consumers anticipating a decrease in their incomes declined to 16.2% from 18.4%.

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