NEW YORK (Reuters) - Consumer sentiment unexpectedly rose in early September to its highest level in four months as Americans were more upbeat about their economic and job prospects, a survey showed on Friday.
The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary September consumer sentiment index rose to 79.2 from 74.3 in August. That topped expectations for a decline to 74.0, according to a Reuters poll.
The gauge of consumer expectations climbed to 73.4 from 65.1, though the barometer of current economic conditions nudged down to 88.3 from 88.7. Both the sentiment and expectations measures were at their highest level since May.
Just 12 percent of those surveyed expected the unemployment rate to rise, down sharply from the 25 percent that anticipated an increase in August's survey. This month's proportion was the lowest recorded since 1966.
Favorable long-term prospects for the economy were seen by 42 percent of consumers, the highest level in five years and up from 32 percent last month.
But the improved optimism was likely a temporary bounce after the recent presidential candidate conventions, the report cautioned.
"The sooner it is tempered, the less economic damage will be incurred due to failed expectations," survey director Richard Curtin said in a statement.
Consumers also felt better about their personal finances, with 37 percent reporting a worsening financial situation, down from 40 percent as Americans continued to whittle down their debt.
While rising food and gasoline prices remained a concern, the one-year inflation expectation eased to 3.5 percent from 3.6 percent. The five-to-10-year inflation outlook also pulled back to 2.8 percent from 3.0 percent.
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Padraic Cassidy