%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:; AUDIO:%)

NEW YORK (AP) _ Consumer confidence improved for the second consecutive month in January, lifted by increased optimism about jobs and the economy.

The New York-based Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 97.3 this month from a a revised 94.6 in December. Analysts were expecting a reading of 96.

The industry group's index, based on a monthly survey of some 5,000 U.S. households, is closely watched because consumer confidence drives consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.

``While the economy has not turned around yet, the worst may well be over,'' said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center.