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Mild prices, rising builder confidence aid U.S. growth

WASHINGTON — The outlook for the U.S. economy brightened a little Tuesday after reports that consumer prices stayed tame and homebuilder confidence rose to the highest level in six years.

A third report showed factory output grew only modestly in September, a reminder that the economy still is weak.

Low inflation could give consumers even more incentive to spend at a time when their confidence is at a five-year high. That could boost growth and help lift American manufacturers out from their slump.

The economy remains one of the top issues for voters with just three weeks left before Election Day.

Tuesday's data showed:

  • The consumer price index rose a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent in September, the Labor Department said. The increase was driven by higher gas prices. When excluding gas and food costs, prices rose just 0.1 percent. Overall prices have risen just 2 percent in the 12 months that ended in September, in line with the Federal Reserve's inflation target.
  • The National Association of Home Builders said its survey of builder sentiment rose to a reading of 41 this month, the highest level since June 2006. The index is still below 50, which indicates negative sentiment about the market. But it has steadily climbed over the past year from a reading of 17, further evidence of a slow but steady housing recovery.
  • The Federal Reserve said that output at factories, mines and utilities rose 0.4 percent in September after a sharp decline in August. Factory output, the most important component of industrial production, edged up only 0.2 percent last month. The report also noted that factory output fell in the July-September quarter. That marked the first quarterly decline since the spring of 2009, when the country was still in recession.

Construction workers finish a roof on a home in Chicago. Confidence among U.S. homebuilders is at its highest level in six years. - AP