NEW YORK - U.S. consumer confidence fell unexpectedly sharply in June, sinking to the fifth-lowest level ever, according to a private industry group.

The report today also said the group's reading of consumers' expectations hit an all-time low as home prices tumbled while gasoline and food prices rose. A separate index of home prices saw the largest drop since its inception in 2000.

The Conference Board's consumer confidence index fell to 50.4 this month, down from 58.1 in May. The reading is far lower than economists expected; the consensus estimate of economists surveyed by Thomson/IFR was 56.5.

The reading suggests that "the economy remains stuck in low gear," said Lynn Franco, the Conference Board's director of consumer research.

"Perhaps the silver lining to this otherwise dismal report is that consumer confidence may be nearing a bottom," Franco said.

The survey is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households.