NEW YORK - The consumer confidence index surged to 70.8 in February from an upwardly revised 61.5 last month, The Conference Board reported Tuesday.

Economists polled by Thomson Reuters predicted the index would be 63.0.

The January index was originally reported as 61.1.

The present situation index rose to 45.0 from an upwardly revised 38.8, originally reported as 38.4, while the expectations index gained to 88.0 from an upwardly revised 76.7, originally reported as 76.2.

“Consumer confidence, which had declined last month, posted a sizeable improvement in February,” said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board's Consumer Research Center. “The index is now close to levels seen a year ago (Feb. 2011, 72.0). Consumers are considerably less pessimistic about current business and labor market conditions than they were in January. And, despite further increases in gas prices, they are more optimistic about the short-term outlook for the economy, job prospects, and their financial situation.”

Business conditions were called “good” by 13.3% of respondents in February, up from 13.2% in January. Those saying conditions are “bad” slid to 31.2% from 38.3%.

The percentage of consumers expecting a pickup in business conditions in the next half year grew to 18.7% from 16.7%, while 11.8% said they expect conditions to worsen, off from 14.6% the prior month.

On the jobs front, those who believe jobs are “plentiful” rose to 6.6% in February from 6.2% in January, while the number saying jobs are “hard to get” declined to 38.7% this survey from 43.3%. The respondents who see fewer jobs becoming available in a half year, slid to 16.9% from 19.1%. Those expecting more jobs to become available climbed to 18.7% from 16.4%, The Conference Board reported.

Income expectations were better, with 15.4% of consumers anticipating an increase in their income in the next six months, up from the prior month's 13.8%, while 12.7% expect their income to decrease, off from 15.3% in the prior month’s survey.

The number of consumers who expected to buy a home in the next six months fell to 4.1% from 4.3%, while the number of respondents planning to buy a car rose to 10.5% from 10.0%. Fewer consumers than last month said they plan to buy a major appliance in the next six months (44.4% vs. 48.4%).

Fewer respondents than last month (44.6% vs. 50.9%) expect to take a vacation in the next six months, but more said they would stay in the U.S. rather than leave the country. Cars rather than airplanes were the preferred mode of travel, by a 23.9%-20.3% margin.

The consumer confidence survey is based on a probability design random sample by the Nielsen Company.

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