The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index (basically, the one everyone uses) not only beat the predictions for early May, but hit its highest level since January 2008.

“Analysts” had predicted that the index would drop from 76.4 (April) to 76.2. Instead, it climbed to 77.8.

What do those numbers mean? Essentially, in 1964 researchers asked consumers if they were positive or negative about the economy. They set that level as “100.” Everything else is compared to that. In short, it’s simply a relative measure — are consumers more or less positive than they were last time we asked?

This latest survey was the ninth straight month of increases — something that hasn’t happened since 1978.

As Bloomberg explained:

A jobless rate that has dropped to the lowest level in three years and a housing market that shows signs of stabilizing may be helping lift Americans’ spirits. The unexpected gain in confidence signaled consumer purchases, which account for 70 percent of the economy, can keep expanding after growing at the fastest pace in more than a year.

And Reuters added some more good news to the mix:

Separate data earlier in the day showed U.S. producer prices unexpectedly fell in April as energy costs dropped the most in six months, a sign of easing inflation pressures that could give the Federal Reserve more room to help the economy should growth weaken.

(Of course, now I’m being accused of being overly positive with stories like this. But heck, the news is good and continues to be so. And I hate writers who hedge too much — if you see good news, say so.)