Consumers turned slightly more upbeat this month after taking a dimmer view of the economy in April. The better attitude was concentrated in current economic conditions, although households hold a mixed view of job prospects. The Conference Board, a private research group, said Tuesday its index of consumer confidence increased to 95.4 from a revised 94.3 in April, first reported as 95.2. The May and April indexes are far below the 101.4 reported in March. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast the latest index to be little changed at 95.0. "Consumer confidence improved modestly in May, after declining sharply in April," said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the board. "While current conditions in the second quarter appear to be improving, consumers still remain cautious about the short-term outlook." The present situation index, a gauge of consumers' assessment of current economic conditions, rose to 108.1 in May from a revised 105.1 in April, originally put at 106.8. Consumer expectations for economic activity over the next six months fell to 86.9 from a revised 87.1, first reported as 87.5. Consumers account for the bulk of U.S. economic activity. But households haven't boosted their spending by much, despite a cash windfall from falling gasoline prices. That reticence is evident in retail sales. Growth in store sales, outside of car buying, has been lackluster. According to the Conference Board, consumers in May have mixed feelings about the current labor situation but are more optimistic about future job prospects. The survey found 20.7% of consumers this month think jobs are "plentiful, " compared with 19.0% who thought that in April. But another 27.3% this month describe jobs as "hard to get," up from 25.9% saying that last month. The share of respondents anticipating more jobs in the next six months rose to 14.6% in May from 13.8% saying that in April. The share expecting fewer jobs fell to 15.5% from 16.4%.
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