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US consumer sentiment beats estimates, hits 98

Buoyed by favorable views of the economy, consumer sentiment edged up to 98 in April, according to the University of Michigan.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the index to drop to 96.5 for the April preliminary report from last month's preliminary figure of 97.6. The monthly survey of 500 consumers measures attitudes toward topics, such as personal finances, inflation, unemployment, government policies and interest rates.

Richard Curtin, surveys of consumers chief economist at the university, says in the report that rising consumer confidence is a result of the Current Economic Conditions Index being near all-time highs. The index is currently at its highest since 2000.

The survey consists of two parts: current economic conditions, which measures attitudes about the current state of the economy, and the index of consumer expectations, which measures outlook.

While there is almost no partisan gap in the consumer sentiment index, the expectations index has an "astonishing" 50.5-index-point divide. While the gap is shrinking, Curtin doesn't think it's happening fast enough.

"Much more progress on shrinking the partisan gap is needed to bring economic expectations in line with reality," he said in a release. "A slow pace of convergence will make it more difficult to disentangle political fervor from what appears to be a growing sense among consumers that the economy will experience fundamental changes in the years ahead."