Consumer confidence unexpectedly rises in July

The index measures how consumers feel about business conditions, the job market and the next six months. 

Consumer confidence has fallen since reaching a three-year high of 72 in February. 

Although gas and fuel prices fell in recent months, consumers are still uneasy about present conditions. 

Prices at the pump have increased in the past few weeks, averaging about $3.69 a gallon while food and clothing prices remain high, problems that could hinder consumer spending, which represents 70 percent of economic activity. 

The confidence report showed a measure of present conditions dropped to 35.7, from 36.6 in June, the lowest level since February. 

But on a positive note, the measure of expectations for the next six months increased to 75.4, making up most of last month’s drop.

Those expecting more jobs to become available in the next six months climbed to 16.7 from 13.8 the previous month, while those who expected to see their incomes rise over the next six months advanced to 15.7 from 14.1 in June. 

Yet, those expecting incomes to fall were also up to their highest level in a year. 

Those who said jobs are currently hard to get increased to 44.1 percent from 43.2 percent in June, the report showed. 

The economy added only 18,000 net jobs in June, which was the second straight month of scant hiring. The unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent, the highest this year. That's far below the average job gains of 215,000 per month during February through April.

The number of consumers who expect business conditions to improve over the next six months increased, but so did those expecting business conditions to get worse. 

Last week a Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment showed the measure fell in July to its lowest level in more than two years, contradicting Tuesday's Conference Board report. 

While jobs are a problem, the housing market isn't instilling much confidence, either. 

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home-price index showed that prices rose in 16 of the 20 cities tracked in May, rising for the second straight month as spring buyers went house hunting. Still, 19 of the 20 cities have seen year-over-year price declines.

In a separate report, sales of new homes unexpectedly fell for a second month. Purchases dropped 1 percent in June to a 312,000 annual pace, a three-month low, the Commerce Department reported.