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Reports point to uptick in consumer confidence, credit, employment trends

Mar 10, 2012 Philip Burgess

Americans appear generally more optimistic about both the wider economy and their personal finances, according to a survey released this week by Fannie Mae. The mortgage lender's February 2012 National Housing Survey shows consumers' attitudes toward personal finances, housing, and employment have stabilized. The survey results mirror a general improvement in sentiment regarding the overall U.S. economy. Recent gains in employment, consumer confidence and even the credit market have renewed hopes of a stronger economy in 2012. Debt collection specialists have also noted a mild increase in demand due to growing consumer credit balances. The latest Fannie Mae report shows 35 percent of surveyed Americans believe the economy is on the right track, up from 16 percent in November. The number of consumers who believe markets are headed in the wrong direction (57 percent) similarly fell, down 18 percentage points since November. "The pickup in the pace of hiring over the past few months has helped soothe consumer concerns, lifting their moods regarding their personal finances, the direction of the economy and their views on the housing market," said Doug Duncan, vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. "As a result, we've seen more potential for economic upside, creating a more balanced near-term outlook." The housing market, one of the slowest markets to recover from the recession, has shown hopeful but less vibrant trends in recent weeks. Fannie Mae reported confidence in personal finances, household income and expenses, as well as attitudes toward home ownership and renting, has held steady in recent months. Finally, Americans are less worried about job security, as 76 percent of respondents are not concerned about losing their jobs over the next year, up from 70 percent in November. The U.S. Federal Reserve reported on Wednesday that  consumer credit expanded sharply in January, surpassing many economists' expectations. The report parallels the Fannie Mae survey, with both symbolizing a nationwide surge in confidence. "An expansion in consumer credit signals improved confidence in the economy and an enhanced willingness to spend," Paul Edelstein, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, told Reuters. Specifically, total consumer debt grew by $17.78 billion in January - well above the $10 billion increase projected by analysts in a Reuters poll.