WASHINGTON – Consumer confidence rose more than forecast in December to a six-month high.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment rose to 67.7 this month from 64.1 at the end of last month. The median estimate of 73 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a reading of 65.8. The gauge averaged 89 in the five years leading up to the recession that began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.

Falling gasoline prices and gradual improvement in the labor market may be helping stabilize confidence. Nonetheless, gridlock over deficit-cutting measures in Washington and fears of a European default will probably prevent sentiment from climbing much more in 2012.

“Even with an improvement, sentiment is still likely to remain at a very subdued, depressed level,” said Neil Dutta, an economist at Bank of America in New York. “While the momentum may be changing, the level is pretty weak. The economy is picking up a bit, but it’s certainly not going gangbusters.”

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 63 to 68. The index averaged 64.2 during the 18-month recession.

Another report Friday showed the trade deficit narrowed in October to the lowest level of the year, reflecting a drop in imports that will help give the economy a lift. The gap shrank 1.6 percent to $43.5 billion, smaller than projected, from $44.2 billion in September, according to data from the Commerce Department.

The Michigan survey’s index of current conditions, which reflects Americans’ perceptions of their financial situation and whether they consider it a good time to buy big-ticket items like cars, increased to 77.9 from 77.6 the prior month.

The index of consumer expectations for six months from now, which more closely projects the direction of consumer spending, climbed to 61.1 from 55.4.

Consumers in Friday’s confidence report said they expect an inflation rate of 3.1 percent over the next 12 months, down from 3.2 percent in November.

Over the next five years, the range tracked by Federal Reserve policymakers, Americans expect a 2.7 percent rate of inflation, the same as the prior month.

A gallon of regular unleaded gasoline fell to $3.27 on Dec. 5, its lowest since February, according to AAA, the nation’s largest automobile association. The unemployment rate in November fell to 8.6 percent, its lowest in more than two years, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 6.5 percent from Nov. 25 through Thursday on signs Europe would avoid a default.