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U.S. consumer confidence at six-year high, Europeans also more upbeat - survey

Prices are seen on replica Statues of Liberty figures in a shop window in New York City, November 14, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Prices are seen on replica Statues of Liberty figures in a shop window in New York City, November 14, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Susan Fenton

LONDON (Reuters) - Consumer confidence in the United States reached a six-year high in the third quarter, as prospects for jobs and personal finances improved, and also rose sharply in Europe, a global survey showed.

Americans were among the most bullish consumers in a quarterly survey by global information and insights company Nielsen, reflecting growing confidence that the world's biggest economy is a on a sustainable growth path. U.S. stockmarkets have risen to record highs, creating a wealth effect that has also made consumers more willing to spend.

The survey, released on Wednesday, was taken before a 16-day partial government shutdown early this month which economists expect will hurt U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter.

"In the United States, the labor market is slowly healing, and low interest rates are helping the housing market come back and bringing up the stock market, which is perhaps especially beneficial to higher-income consumers with more assets," said Venkatesh Bala, chief economist at The Cambridge Group, a part of Nielsen.

"It's still going to be a slow climb - we're not going to see huge growth rates - but this improvement is recurring and it is sustainable."

Indonesia remained the most bullish consumer market worldwide, followed by the Philippines and India, as in the previous quarter, but confidence levels in all three emerging markets dipped. It also dipped in Brazil.

The Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Index was unchanged in the third quarter from the previous three months at 94, up 2 points from the same period a year earlier. A reading below 100, however, signals still relatively low consumer morale.

Portugal saw the biggest jump in consumer confidence globally in the third quarter, by a hefty 22 points, while Ukraine saw the biggest drop, by 13 points.

Portugal's rebound led a pick-up in consumer sentiment in peripheral euro zone countries that have been grappling with tough austerity measures as they sought to cut heavy debt levels.

While the rebound is encouraging and tied with other recent economic data suggesting the euro zone economy has turned the corner, Portugal, Italy, Greece, as well as France, were still among the most depressed consumer markets globally.

"In Europe, we've seen a change in mindset as policymakers have moved away from austerity measures and toward growth policies," said Bala.

"While recovery is still uneven, many consumers - especially in countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom - are feeling that the worst is behind them, and their confidence is improving as they sense growth returning."

Non-euro zone member Hungary was the most pessimistic market globally although it showed an improvement from the third quarter.

The Nielsen survey was conducted between August 14 and September 6 and covered more than 30,000 online consumers across 60 markets.

(susan.fenton@thomsonreuters.com, editing by Ron Askew)

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