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U.S. consumer sentiment hits five-year high

A shopper carries her purchases from a newly opened Walmart Neighborhood Market in Chicago, in this September 21, 2011 file photo.

JIM YOUNG/REUTERS

U.S. consumer sentiment unexpectedly rose to its highest level in five years in October as consumers became more optimistic about the overall economy in a possible boost to President Obama's re-election hopes next month.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary October reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment came in at 83.1, up from 78.3 the month before, and the highest since September 2007, the survey showed on Friday.

It was well above the median forecast for a slight decline to 78 among economists polled by Reuters.

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The new buoyancy among consumers comes shortly after the U.S. unemployment rate tumbled to its lowest level in nearly four years in September as more people returned to the work force and found jobs than economist had predicted.

"We are getting some quite interesting signals from consumer sentiment and employment data – both (the) unemployment rate and initial claims – that there has been some quite significant improvement in the economy," said David Sloan, an economist at 4Cast in New York.

U.S. stocks were higher after the news. The S&P 500 climbed 0.2 per cent in morning trade but pared some of its earlier gains as equities struggled to make headway after recently climbing to highs not seen in five years.

The unexpected jump in consumer sentiment in October came as consumers felt better about the economy in both the long and the short term, the compilers of the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey said.

"What changed was how they (consumers) evaluated economic conditions," survey director Richard Curtin said in a statement. "Economic conditions during the year ahead were expected to be 'good' by more consumers, and more consumers expected 'good' economic times over the next five years."

The survey's gauge of consumer expectations jumped to 79.5 from 73.5, well above an expected reading of 74. Expectations were at their highest since July 2007.

The survey's barometer of current economic conditions rose to 88.6 from 85.7 and was above a forecast of 86.

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A separate report showed U.S. producer prices rose more than expected in September as the cost of gasoline surged, but underlying inflation pressures were muted in a sign the Federal Reserve has room to carry out its new monetary stimulus program.

The Labor Department said on Friday its seasonally adjusted Producer Price Index increased 1.1 per cent last month. Economists polled by Reuters had expected prices at farms, factories and refineries to rise 0.7 per cent after climbing 1.7 per cent in August.

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