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UK Consumer Confidence Up In June

Consumer confidence rose to 58 in June from 54 in May as more people said they expected better times by the end of the year.

LONDON (AP) -- Consumer confidence in the United Kingdom rose in June as more people said they expected better times by the end of the year, a bank said Wednesday, but a drop in a closely watched house price survey tempered optimism about a recovery.

The latest forecast from the International Monetary Fund, released Wednesday, took a slightly gloomier view of the British economy than the agency had in April.

It projected the British economy shrinking 4.2 percent this year, compared to a previous estimate of 4.1 percent. It also forecast a feeble recovery next year with GDP rising by just 0.2 percent, down from its previous estimate of 0.6 percent.

The Nationwide Building Society's Consumer Confidence Index, based on opinion polling, rose to 58 in June, up from 54 in May and the highest level since October.

A third of the sample believed the economy would be better in six months, the highest figure in a year, though 42 percent expect no difference and 23 percent thought it would be worse.

A report by Halifax, the nation's largest mortgage lender, said average house prices declined by half a percent in June. It had reported a 2.6 percent gain in May.

In the April-June quarter, Halifax said prices fell 1.9 percent -- the smallest drop since the first quarter of 2008. That put house prices at the lowest level in five years, the report said.

"Whilst there have been encouraging recent signs of improvement, the outlook for the U.K. economy remains uncertain with unemployment set to continue rising for sometime," said Martin Ellis, Halifax's housing economist. "Overall, we expect to see a continuing mixed pattern of monthly house price rises and falls over the remainder of 2009."

Nationwide, the nation's third-largest mortgage lender, had reported that average house prices rose 0.9 percent in June, marking the third rise in four months.

In its consumer confidence survey, Nationwide detected more optimism, though the largest number of people remained cautious.

"For the first time since the launch of the Consumer Confidence Index in May 2004, more people expect the economic situation in six months time to be better than believe it will be worse," said Martin Gahbauer, Nationwide's chief economist.

"However, the strongest belief by consumers is that the economy will be the same in six months time. This expectation of a plateau in economic conditions has grown steadily over the last year."

TNS interviewed 1,000 people between May 18 and June 21, and the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The falling value of property took a toll on the Crown Estate, which owns prime property in London and around the country in the name of the monarch. The estate said Wednesday the value of its holdings had declined by 1.3 billion pounds ($2.1 billion) in a year to 6 billion pounds. The properties are managed on behalf of the government.

Despite that decline, the estate said it produced a surplus of 226.5 million pounds for the year, up 6.1 percent, which was handed over to the Treasury. And the Crown Estate said it took advantage of "re-pricing" to acquire two large retail parks.

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