Consumers' confidence in the economy shot up in December for the second straight month, according to a widely followed survey released Tuesday.

The Conference Board reported that its consumer confidence index jumped 8.3 points to a level of 80.2. That's up nearly 20 points from October's level, reflecting marked optimism in the economy's direction.Fabian Linden, executive director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center, said the index "is now at a level historically associated with a reasonably comfortable pace of economic growth."

"The level of consumer expectations, which historically has been an impressive indicator of things to come, has chalked up imposing gains in each of the past two months," he said. "While it may still be too early for the readings to be totally convincing, they are extremely encouraging."

The report follows a raft of positive economic reports in recent weeks indicating increased consumer spending and low inflation. Accompanied by a strong stock market, consumers appear to be optimistic about the future.

The consumer confidence index, calculated on a 1985 base of 100, is derived from consumer responses to questions that range from home-buying plans to local job conditions. The survey of 5,000 households is considered a useful barometer for gauging the economic outlook.

Since consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the nation's economic activity, growth depends on consumer willingness to borrow and spend.

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The Conference Board report showed that slightly more survey respondents than the previous month have positive assessments of current business conditions, but pessimists continue to outnumber optimists.

More respondents reported in December that jobs are more "plentiful," but people with that sentiment remained a minority.

Consumers were more optimistic than in November in expectations of business conditions six months from now. Twice as many consumers are positive about the immediate future as those who are negative, a turnaround from October, the Conference Board said.

The Conference Board is a business-supported research group.

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