Despite conflicting factors bearing on U.S. consumers, their confidence has picked up, rising to a three-month high in February. The University of Michigan-Thomson Reuters consumer-sentiment index registered 77.6 last month, up from 73.8 in January. "Expected job gains have partially offset concerns about higher payroll taxes and the impending reduction in federal spending. Unfortunately, those expected job gains will be harder to actually accomplish given that the economy faces weakened consumer demand due to lower take-home pay as well as reduced federal spending and employment," said survey economist Richard Curtin.

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