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    Consumer Confidence Plunges

    NEW YORK - Consumer confidence plunged to its lowest level in nearly 10 years in February, the Conference Board reported on Tuesday.

    NEW YORK - Consumer confidence plunged to its lowest level in nearly 10 years in February, the Conference Board reported on Tuesday.

    The group said that its index of consumer confidence fell nearly 15 points to 64, from a revised 78.8 in January. The consumer confidence index was at 80.7 in December. February's reading was at its lowest point since October 1993, when the index stood at 60.5.

    "Lackluster job and financial markets, rising fuel costs, and the increasing threat of war and terrorism, appear to have taken a toll on consumers," Conference Board economist Lynn Franco said in a statement. "This month's confidence readings paint a gloomy picture of current economic conditions, with no apparent rebound on the short-term horizon," she said.

    The February drop in the index was the third consecutive monthly decline. The consumer-confidence survey is based on a mail-in survey of 5,000 respondents.

    The Conference Board said its present situation index, a gauge of consumers' assessment of current economic conditions, fell to 61.6 from a revised 75.3 the previous month.

    Consumers' expectations for the next six months are also more pessimistic than last month. Those anticipating that business conditions will worsen increased to 19 percent from 14 percent. Those anticipating an improvement fell to 15 percent from 18 percent.

    The employment outlook remains rather grim, the Conference Board said. Consumers reporting jobs are hard to get rose to a nine-year high of 30 percent from 29 percent. Consumers who expect fewer jobs to become available in the next six months surged to 28 percent from 21 percent.

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