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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 17:21 GMT
US consumer spending posts rise
US shoppers at tills in Toys R US store
US consumers are once again flocking to the shops
US consumer spending recorded its biggest increase since July last month, Commerce Department figures show.

Spending rose 0.5% in November after an increase of 0.3% a month earlier.

Another report from the University of Michigan also showed consumer confidence remained near year highs at 91.7 despite a slight fall in December.

Analysts said the reports could provide further encouragement to policy makers which may mean a cut in interest rates.

Consumer spending accounts for two thirds of US gross domestic product, and is seen as a crucial barometer of economic health.

Further data from the Commerce Department also offered hope for the economy on the manufacturing front, as producers reported a rebound in demand for big ticket goods.

Factory orders for high-priced goods such as big electrical items like washing machines rose 1.9% in November, after sinking 8.2% a month earlier.

Rates hope

The reports also offered more positive data to the Federal Reserve as they revealed core consumer prices - which strip out volatile energy and food costs - were steady last month after rising 0.2% in October.

Fed officials have previously voiced concern about the uncomfortably high levels of US inflation.

"The inflation readings show contained inflation expectations, as the Fed has been hoping for," said Pierre Ellis, senior economist at Decision Economics.

As a result, analysts now suggest that the Fed could opt to cut rates from current record highs of 5.25% within the next six months.

Concerns over the health of the US economy have been mounting in recent months amid weak manufacturing activity, a housing market slowdown and a drop in consumer spending as energy prices hit record highs.

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