WRAPUP 2-US consumer confidence rebounds, home prices rise

* U.S. January home prices rise, annual rate nears a rise

* U.S. consumer confidence in March up more than expected

* Consumers slightly more optimistic on labor market
(Adds details, comment, link to graphics)

By Wanfeng Zhou

NEW YORK, March 30 (BestGrowthStock) – U.S. consumer confidence
rebounded in March, while home prices rose in January for the
eighth straight month according to a closely watched housing
index, bolstering hopes for a sustainable economic recovery.

The consumer data also showed a slight increase in optimism
about the labor market. It comes ahead of a key government
nonfarm payrolls report due on Friday that is expected to show
the economy added jobs in March.

The Conference Board, an industry group, said on Tuesday
its index of consumer attitudes rose to a reading of 52.5 in
March from an upwardly revised 46.4 in February.

The median of forecasts from analysts polled by Reuters was
for a March reading of 50.0.

The expectations index rose to 70.2, from a revised 62.9.
The present situation index rose to 26.0, the most since May
2009, up from a revised 21.7 in February.

This consumer report will “add credence to the economic
recovery school of thought,” said Jim Awad, managing director
at Zephyr Management in New York.

“It’s logical that with the economy improving and stocks
going up consumer confidence would improve,” he said. “The real
question is what happens next year after the stimulus is
removed, but in the short-term this is good news.”

On Wall Street, stocks (.DJI: ) (.SPX: ) initially rose on the
news, but later turned negative as shares of financial and
energy companies slipped. U.S. Treasury prices erased initial
losses as stocks fell, although they remained under pressure as
investors prepared for a fresh supply announcement.

The dollar extended gains against the yen (JPY=: ), rising
briefly above 93 yen for the first time in nearly three months
as the strong consumer data bolstered views that the Federal
Reserve will raise interest rates ahead of its European or
Japanese counterparts.

Consumers assessment of the labor market improved,
according to the Conference Board. The “jobs hard to get” index
declined to 45.8 percent from 47.3 percent, while the “jobs
plentiful” index increased to 4.4 percent from 4.0 percent.
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For a graphic of consumer confidence, see:
http://link.reuters.com/kuc85j
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The U.S. Labor Department will release its monthly
employment report on Friday. A Reuters survey of economists
forecast that employers added 190,000 jobs in March, largely
driven by hiring for the 2010 census, after cutting 36,000
positions in February.

That would mark only the second time payrolls have
increased since the recession started in December 2007. The
health of the labor market will be a key determinant of when
the Fed will start raising benchmark interest rates, currently
near zero.

“The confidence number should boost expectations for
Friday’s jobs number because historically the labor
differential, which is the difference between jobs plentiful
and jobs hard to get, has a strong correlation with the
unemployment rate,” said Kathy Lien, director of currency
research at GFT in New York.

Lien cautioned, however, that the forecasts for payrolls
are “very high and I believe that there is strong risk of a
disappointment.”

Separately, the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price
indexes released on Tuesday showed prices of U.S. single-family
homes rose in January. And the annual rate had its best reading
in almost three years, although the year-over-year reading
still showed a small decline in prices.
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For a graphic of U.S. home prices, see:
http://link.reuters.com/tez75j
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The S&P composite index of 20 metropolitan areas
unexpectedly rose by 0.3 percent in January, seasonally
adjusted, matching the December increase.

On an unadjusted basis, prices declined 0.4 percent in
January. S&P has said that foreclosures can skew the seasonal
adjustments.

The median forecasts from Reuters surveys were for a 0.3
percent drop for the adjusted index and a 0.2 percent decline
for the unadjusted index.

“It looks like there is an underlying recovery in house
prices going on. The numbers are in line with market
expectations and a bit stronger than my expectations and I
would say, broadly speaking, this is quite encouraging for the
housing market,” said David Sloan, economist with 4CAST Ltd in
New York.
Stock Investing

(Additional reporting by Lynn Adler, John Parry, Chris Reese
and Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Leslie Adler)

WRAPUP 2-US consumer confidence rebounds, home prices rise