Consumer sentiment on the rise

WASHINGTON – U.S. consumer sentiment ticked up in August, driven by greater optimism about jobs, rising incomes, and increasing wealth. Yet the increase largely occurred among higher-income groups.

The University of Michigan said Friday its index of consumer sentiment rose to 82.5 from 81.8 in July. The August level is only slightly higher than it was a year ago.

Consumers have sent mixed signals in recent months. The Michigan index has fluctuated between 80 and 82.5 since December. But a measure of consumer confidence by the Conference Board rose this month to nearly a seven-year high.

And yet Americans cut back their spending in July, according to a government report Friday. Consumer spending slipped 0.1 percent last month, the first drop since January. The decline was driven by a drop in spending on autos, which took a breather after several months of strong sales.

Nearly 60 percent of households in the top third of income earners say they are financially better off this month, the Michigan survey found, compared with only 36 percent in the bottom two-thirds. And nearly a quarter of households in the top third said they were wealthier, likely due to stock market gains, compared with just 2 percent in the bottom two-thirds.