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Economy

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At a glance
Key economic reports released Tuesday included:
Consumer confidence. The Conference Board’s index of consumer confidence rose to 68.1 in April. The increase was from a reading of 61.9 in March.
Home prices. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index jumped 9.3 percent in February from a year earlier.
Wages. The Labor Department says an index that measures wages and benefits rose 0.3 percent during the first quarter. That’s down from a 0.4 percent gain in the October-December quarter and the smallest gain in a year.
Associated Press
A man walks past a greeting cards display case in Baltimore. The private Conference Board reports that consumer confidence improved in April.

Housing costs, cheap gas buoy US confidence

Jobs outlook sparks surge

– Americans are more optimistic the job market is healing and will deliver higher pay later this year.

That brighter outlook, along with rising home prices, cheaper gasoline and a surging stock market, could offset some of the drag from the recent tax increases and government spending cuts.

A gauge of consumer confidence rose in April, reversing a decline in March, the Conference Board, a private research group, said Tuesday.

The board attributed the gain to optimism about hiring and pay increases. Economists also cited higher home values and record stock prices.

Despite the rise in the index, to 68.1 from 61.9 in March, confidence remains well below its historic average of 92.

Still, the increase signaled that consumers, whose spending drives about 70 percent of the economy, see better times ahead.

A separate report Tuesday showed that home prices nationwide rose in February by the most in nearly seven years.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index jumped 9.3 percent in February from a year earlier. Prices in all 20 cities rose on an annual basis for a second straight month.

Phoenix led all cities with a year-over-year price gain of 23 percent. Floyd Scott, owner-broker at Century 21 Arizona Foothills in Phoenix, said demand is particularly strong for homes priced below $300,000.

Because of a tight supply, homes for sale are routinely receiving multiple offers, he said. That’s driving prices up.

“Now the job market is starting to improve, so younger adults are moving out and either getting an apartment or a house,” he said.

On top of higher home values, economists note, record stock prices have boosted household wealth.

The reports were released the same day the Federal Reserve’s policymaking committee began a two-day meeting.

Analysts expect the Fed to announce today that it will maintain its low interest rate policies, which include an $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program.

The Fed’s bond purchases are intended to keep interest rates low to spur borrowing, spending and investing. Its policies have helped keep loan rates at record lows.

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