Consumer confidence in the economy jumped in November, a sign that shoppers may spend more liberally for Christmas presents than retailers expected, according to a closely watched survey released Tuesday.

The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index rose to 101.4 in November, a hefty five-point gain over October. It was the first increase in three months.The results from the business research group's survey suggest holiday shopping could be more robust than anticipated. More consumers expect to see their incomes rise in the next six months and more feel optimistic about the outlook for employment, the survey showed.

People shop more when they feel confident about their financial prospects, said Fabian Linden, executive director of Conference Board's consumer research center.

Linden said "101.4 is a very heartening number."

A separate Conference Board survey released earlier this month projected retail spending would hit about $43 billion during the Christmas season, a moderate increase over last year. The average American household will spend $430 on gifts.

The consumer confidence results substantiated the Christmas spending survey and could ease the concerns many retailers have felt about this season.

Retail sales have been sluggish this fall, and economists had warned that the Christmas season - when retailers get more business than at any time during the year - could be slow if consumers continued to be miserly spenders.

But in another sign of soft store sales, the Johnson Redbook Service reported Tuesday that national retail sales rose 1.7 percent in the first four weeks of November, down from 2.2 percent in the previous four-week period.

The report is a snapshot of recent sales performance, while the consumer survey is viewed as an indicator of future consumer moves, so economists were more upbeat about the prospects for stronger-than-expected Christmas sales.

"I attach more emphasis on the confidence index because it signals what consumers will ultimately do," said Dan Seto, an economist at Nikko Securities International Co. "It shows their intentions."

The index, calculated from a base of 100, is derived from responses sent to 5,000 U.S. households nationwide, soliciting answers on subjects ranging from home-buying plans to local job conditions.

Nearly 27 percent of consumers surveyed said present business conditions are good, up from less than 24 percent in October. Nearly 18 percent expect business conditions to improve over the next six months, up moderately for the month, the Conference Board said.

Stock and bond prices fell following the report as traders reasoned that consumer sentiment could underpin economic growth, making it less likely that the Federal Reserve needs to cut interest rates. But stocks had largely recovered by late afternoon.

The consumer survey was conducted for The Conference Board by NFO Research Inc., Greenwich Conn. The Conference Board is located in New York.