NEW YORK — A private research group says that consumer confidence in February rose dramatically to the highest level since a year ago when the U.S. economy’s outlook started to look brighter before souring again.

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index now stands at 70.8, up from a revised 61.5 in January, helped by consumers’ improving assessment of the job market. Analysts had expected a reading of 63. The February reading marks the highest level since February 2011 when it was 72.0. The index is still far below the 90 that indicates a healthy economy.

Economists watch the confidence numbers closely because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

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