WASHINGTON — American consumers are growing more confident about the job market, companies are ordering more equipment and home prices are rising in most major cities.
The latest batch of government data suggests the economy is improving just as the holiday shopping season begins.
Rising home values, more hiring and lower gas prices pushed consumer confidence in November to the highest level in nearly five years. And steady consumer spending appears to have encouraged businesses to invest more in October after pulling back over the summer.
Those trends could boost economic growth slightly in the final three months of the year. But the real payoff could come early next year, if the fiscal cliff is avoided. Businesses that have postponed expansion plans could move forward with projects. That could lead to more hiring.
Right now, households don't seem to be letting the fiscal threat control their urge to spend, said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. The first weekend of holiday sales was great, vehicle sales are holding up and housing is strong.
Reports Tuesday showed:
• The Conference Board's consumer confidence index rose to 73.7 in November from 73.1 in October. Both are the best readings since February 2008.
• The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city index of home prices rose 3 percent in September compared with the same month last year. Prices also gained 3.6 percent in the July-September quarter compared with the same quarter in 2011.
• Orders for core capital goods, considered a proxy for business investment, rose 1.7 percent in October, the Commerce Department said. That's the largest increase since May and it follows sharp declines over the summer.
One reason Americans are more optimistic is because they see the job market improving, the Conference Board survey showed. Employers added 171,000 jobs in October and more jobs were created in August and September than first thought.
More Americans said they plan to buy a home, an appliance or take a vacation, the Conference Board survey found.