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    Consumer Confidence Rises to Pre-September 11 Levels

    NEW YORK - A private research group has reported consumer confidence is at its highest level since before the Sept. 11 attacks, indicating consumers are looking with confidence to the end of the recession.

    NEW YORK - A private research group has reported consumer confidence is at its highest level since before the Sept. 11 attacks, indicating consumers are looking with confidence to the end of the recession.

    The Conference Board, a private research group, said its index of consumer confidence rose to 110.2 in March from a revised 95.0 in February. That is the highest level since August 2001.

    ?Consumers' confidence has been bolstered by the improvement in business and labor market conditions," Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center, told CNN/Money. "The latest gains are striking. This new boom in confidence should translate into increased consumer spending and stronger economic growth ahead."

    The Commerce Department also reported that orders for durable goods such as cars and computers rose 1.5 percent to $179.4 billion in February after rising a revised 1.3 percent in January. But excluding volatile defense items, orders for goods meant to last longer than three years fell 0.2 percent in February after rising a revised 1.4 percent in January. Excluding volatile transportation items, durable goods orders fell 1.3 percent after rising a revised 0.2 percent in January.

    The headline number rose for the third straight month, the longest streak of gains since October-December 1999. "The headline number is encouraging, but if you strip out the volatile components and look at core growth, it's telling you we're turning the corner, but we're not running around the corner," said Anthony Chan, chief economist at Banc One Investment Advisors.

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