U.S. consumer confidence improved in May to its highest level since last September, prompted by hopes the government's economic stimulus program will bring the economy out of recession.

Analysts monitor consumer sentiment as a leading gauge of consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said its final May reading on consumer sentiments was 68.7, higher than an early May figure of 67.9 and a final April reading of 65.1.

Compared with the state of the economy six months ago, consumers have indeed regained a good measure of confidence, Richard Curtin, director of the surveys, said in a statement.

This was slightly above economists' median expectation of a reading of 68.0, according to a Reuters poll.

However, consumers remain nervous about their finances amid harsh jobs conditions.

Despite rising optimism about prospects for the overall economy, consumers still view their finances as out of balance with the economic realities they now face, Curtin said.

(Reporting by Richard Leong, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)