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Consumers vote with their spending

Americans think the U.S. economy will continue to grow at a healthy pace in coming months, sending consumer confidence levels to almost a 29-year high in April.

The Conference Board on Tuesday reported that its index of consumer confidence rose to 136.7 in April from a revised 133.8 in March. April's figures topped Wall Street analysts' expectations for the month.

The index reached 137.4 in February, its highest level since June 1969.

"Consumers see a strong economy. They think that will keep moving forward unless something changes dramatically," said Dan Seto, an economist at Nikko Securities International Co. "Employment is still good, income growth continues and their confidence is up."

Consumer sentiment is important because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the nation's overall economic activity.

Also Tuesday, the Commerce Department reported that orders for big-ticket manufactured goods rose 0.4 percent to $186.6-billion in March, rebounding from a February decline despite a continued slump in demand for aircraft.

In the Conference Board report, consumers felt most confident about the economic outlook for the next six months, pushing the Board's expectations index up 7.6 points to 115.5. The present situation index, however, slipped back 4.2 points to 168.5, hurt by a slight ecline in job availability.

More consumers said they would buy an automobile or go on a vacation in the next six months. Fewer, however, said they would buy a home or a major appliance, like a refrigerator or washing machine or television set.

The consumer confidence index, calculated since 1985 from a base of 100, is derived from responses to questions sent to 5,000 households nationwide. The survey polls consumers on matters ranging from job availability to home-buying plans.