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: Americans are the most upbeat since the pandemic, consumer sentiment survey shows

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The numbers: Americans are the most upbeat about the economy and their own financial well-being since the start of the pandemic, a new survey shows, thanks to declining coronavirus cases and more stimulus payments from Washington.

The final reading of consumer sentiment in March rose to 84.9 points from 83 earlier in the month, according to a survey produced by the University of Michigan. Seldom does the index show such big improvement in the same month.

“Consumer sentiment continued to rise in late March, reaching its highest level in a year due to the third disbursement of relief checks and better than anticipated vaccination progress,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist of the survey.

Read: U.S. unemployment claims sink to 684,000 and hit lowest level since pandemic

The overall consumer sentiment index is still about 16 points below its precrisis peak, however.

What happened: The attitude of Americans right now about their own personal finances and the broader economy is at a one-year high.

The so-called index of current conditions edged up to 93 vs. the preliminary 91.5 March reading. It was also up sharply from February.

MarketWatch special : The coronavirus pandemic has remade our working lives, and it’s been anything but fair.

A forward-looking gauge on what consumers expect six months from now also rose to 79.7 from 77.5 earlier in the month. That’s the highest level since October, just as the last and record wave of coronavirus cases began to break.

Read: Economists say inflation risks highest in two decades and could force Fed to raise interest rates in 2022

Big picture: Americans have become more hopeful about the economy because of coronavirus vaccines and a flood of federal stimulus to help them get through tough times. The economy should continue to improve, allowing more people to return to work, if the pandemic continues to ease.

What they are saying? “We expect attitudes will continue to rebound as the pandemic wanes and economic activity normalizes over the coming months,” said associate economist Mahir Rasheed of Oxford Economics.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
+0.66%

and S&P 500
SPX,
+0.54%

extended gains in Friday trades.

MarketWatch Premium: Investors worry inflation will persist after a spike this summer — but that likely won’t be the case

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