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Consumer confidence in the U.S. economy fell in September for the third consecutive month, the Conference Board said Tuesday.

The private business research organization's closely watched Consumer Confidence Index, sank to 88.4 percent in September from a revised 90.4 percent reading in August.The board had originally reported the August reading as 89.0 percent.

Most economists were expecting the report to show a modest rise in consumer confidence to around 92 percent.

Improved consumer confidence is crucial to an economic recovery because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the nation's total economic activity.

In its lastest report, the board said its measure of consumer ex-pec-tations for the next six months declined to 88.8 percent from 89.4 percent.

The group's measure of consumer present situations fell to 87.8 percent from 91.7 percent reading in the previous month.

In the latest survey, the board said consumers were markedly less positive than in August in their assessment of ongoing economic conditions, but only slightly less optimistic in their expectations for the months ahead.

Buying plans were also somewhat weaker.

"Although the confidence readings are down for the third consecutive month, the aggregate loss has been relatively moderate," said Fabian Linden, executive director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center.

"Most of the decrease is caused by lower consumer expectations for the immediate months ahead. Still, the current level of consumer confidence has been associated, in the almost 30-year history of this survey, with a reasonably lively economy."

In September, the board said, there was a moderate increase in the number of consumers reporting that business conditions were bad, and a slight decline in the number expressing the opposite view.

Regarding current employment conditions, the board said there was little change.