Consumer Confidence Rises and Ford Motor Company Showcases Everest SUV

American consumers have the greatest confidence regarding economic conditions since 2008, according to the Conference Board reading released today, which increased to 82.3 this month from 78.3 in February. This optimism comes as we've managed to avoid many of the fiscal debates that previously damaged confidence and we continue to put the 2008 financial crisis further in the rearview. The improved numbers are important to businesses and their investors because of the spending associated with higher confidence levels.

"Consumers spend based on their expectations, and not based on their current levels of income, and consumer expectations were at a very healthy level this month," said Guy LeBas, managing director of fixed income strategy at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia, according to Bloomberg.

With the improved confidence helping lead the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) 0.59% higher as of 3 p.m. EDT, here are some companies making headlines today.

Looming U.S. defense budget cuts are likely to put a dent in revenue growth for contractors such as Lockheed Martin  (NYSE: LMT  ) . Fortunately, good news for Lockheed Martin and its investors came earlier this week when South Korea set a budget of roughly $6.8 billion for 40 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft it plans to buy this year. This was the likely conclusion after South Korea announced late last year that one of its determining factors in selecting a new fighter jet would be advanced stealth capabilities.

This would be a big win for Lockheed. The company expects the F-35's contribution to its total revenue to increase from 15% to 25% over the next half decade, according to The Wall Street Journal, and nearly half of those F-35 orders are expected to come from international buyers.

Ford's Everest SUV Concept. Source: Ford.

In other news, Ford (NYSE: F  ) showcased the new Everest concept vehicle at the Bangkok International Motor Show today. The sleek-looking SUV is aimed at a growing global utility vehicle market which grew 13% last year. Ford has successfully captured more than its fair share of segment growth, with sales up 35% from a year earlier. Unfortunately for interested Americans, the vehicle won't be available for purchase in the U.S., similar to the Ranger that is only available abroad.

"Extending Ford's unsurpassed heritage of creating class-defining SUVs, the Everest Concept features a stunning design that hints at its toughness and exceptional capability. And, like the current Everest, the production version of this next-generation SUV will be built right here in Thailand," Ford ASEAN President Matt Bradley said in a press release.

This is one vehicle among many that Ford is unleashing this year in an attempt to grow its sales share in emerging markets. 

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