U.S. consumer sentiment improved slightly in July, holding close to the best level in more than a decade as more Americans grew optimistic about their future financial prospects.

The University of Michigan's preliminary sentiment index edged up to 98.4 from 98.2 in June, according to data released Friday that were about in line with forecasts. The gauge has held within a 2.8-point range for the past five months. The expectations index climbed slightly while the gauge of current conditions cooled.

Key insights:

• Unemployment near a half-century low and fresh stock-market highs are helping to underpin consumer purchases and provide fuel for an economy challenged by weaker global growth, soft manufacturing and tepid business investment. Consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, is forecast to accelerate in the second quarter, a Bloomberg survey shows.

• The reading of expectations for personal finances rose to 136, matching the highest level since 2004.

• The data follow Bloomberg's weekly comfort gauge, which climbed last week to a fresh 18-year high on stronger views of the buying climate and personal finances. In June, the Conference Board's confidence measure fell to the lowest level since September 2017.

"Favorable trends in personal finances remained widespread," Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan consumer survey, said in a statement. "These favorable financial expectations were supported by gains in household incomes and wealth."

The measure of five-year inflation expectations rebounded to 2.6% from the prior month's reading of 2.3%, which matched a record low. Consumers also expected 2.6% inflation over the coming year, down from 2.7% the prior month.

The share of households that expected interest rate increases fell to 44%, the lowest since May 2013, while 19% expected rates to fall, the most in 10 years.

Buying attitudes toward durable goods and vehicles were little changed near the highest level of this year as a greater share of consumers mentioned price discounts on durable items.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had projected the main measure would increase to 98.8.

Interviews were conducted June 25 to July 17. The final July reading is due for release Aug. 2.

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