Rise in consumer sentiment is another positive data point for economy

Don't look now but the U.S. economy is set to record another decent week. The stock market is about to post a weekly gain after surmounting the psychologically important Dow 8,000 level. The Q1 earnings season has, so far, not produced any "just dreadful" reports by large-cap companies. And consumer sentiment continues to trend in a positive direction.

The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said consumer sentiment index for April increased to 61.9, from 57.3 in March and 56.3 In February, Reuters reported Friday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected the index to rise to 58.5 in April. The index's record low of 51.7 was set in May 1980.

Highest sentiment since September

What's more, the index is now at its highest level since the 70.3 recorded in September -- or the period just before sentiment plunged on the heels of the Lehman Brothers collapse that signaled the start of the major credit market stress period of the financial crisis.

"While consumers believe the economy may have hit bottom, most consumers believe that when the rebound starts the economy will gain ground very slowly," Survey Director Richard Curtin said, Reuters reported Friday.

Investors need to pay attention to consumer sentiment because it usually precedes consumer decisions to buy (rising sentiment) or hold off purchases (falling sentiment) -- and historically consumer spending has accounted for the bulk (60-65 percent) of U.S. GDP. However, investors should not read too much into the Reuters/University of Michigan index, as it tends to be less of a market-mover than the more-closely-followed, comparable index published by The Conference Board.

Market/Economic Analysis: Again, the incremental rise in consumer sentiment is not the stuff of the "Roaring '20s," but we'll take it: it's a small victory. The data will renew chatter in financial and economic circles about that delightful "b" word, as in is the U.S. recession beginning to form a "bottom"?

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