NEW YORK -- U.S. consumer sentiment rose in early May to its highest level in 18 months as improvement in the stock market, better economic reports and relative calm in the Mideast lifted consumers' spirits.

The University of Michigan's preliminary May consumer sentiment index rose to 96.0, market sources said, a level not seen since December 2000. The index had fallen to 93.0 in April, and May forecasts were for another small drop to 92.7.

The Michigan preliminary current conditions index, which tracks consumers' views about their present financial situation, surged to 103.2 in May from 99.2, and the expectations index, which measures attitudes about the 12 months ahead, rose to 91.3 in May from 89.1 in April.