* Consumer confidence highest since March 2008
* Strong rise in perception of current economic situation
MEXICO CITY, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Mexican consumer confidence rose for the third month in a row in December to its highest in almost five years on shoppers’ optimism about Latin America’s No. 2 economy.
The seasonally adjusted confidence index rose to 99.5 last month from an upwardly revised 97.3 in November, the national statistics agency said on Tuesday, reaching its strongest level since March 2008, before the global financial crisis pushed Mexico into recession.
Mexico has so far weathered a global downturn better than many economies, buoyed by U.S. demand for its exports.
Four of the index’s five components rose, with the strongest increase in consumers’ perception of the economic situation now compared to 12 months ago. Mexico’s new government has promised a sweeping reform agenda in a bid to boost economic growth.
“Since the global economy was stuck in fiscal cliff discussions, the only explanation for the strong rise in consumer confidence (in Mexico) is improved sentiment following the change in government,” said Pedro Tuesta, analyst at 4Cast in Washington.
But households’ willingness to buy big-ticket durable goods eased, although Mexico’s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart de Mexico , said on Monday that sales at its Mexican stores open for at least a year rose 1.6 percent in December from a year earlier.
A spike in annual inflation to a 2-1/2-year high of 4.77 percent in September had cut into appetite for major goods purchases, but the pace of consumer price increases has cooled since, supporting spending.
The unadjusted confidence index picked up to 99 in December , from 94.2 in November.