Capping the oil spill in the gulf gave a boost to Florida consumer confidence this month, pushing it up slightly to the highest level since May, a University of Florida survey shows.
But survey organizers were quick to note that confidence levels remain sluggish, and far lower than a year ago, as double-digit unemployment and a slow housing market continue to weigh on Floridians.
"This is by no means a return to a state of optimism," said Chris McCarty, director of UF's Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
Indeed, two other reports released Tuesday indicate widespread queasiness over the lingering effects of the oil spill and the tenuous economic recovery:
• The national consumer confidence index fell to the lowest point since February, the New York-based Conference Board reported. The index, which would indicate a healthy economy at a level of 90, fell to 48.5 in September, down from 53.2 in August. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters were expecting 52.5.
"Overall, consumers' confidence in the state of the economy remains quite grim," Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's consumer research center, said in a statement. "And, with so few expecting conditions to improve in the near term, the pace of economic growth is not likely to pick up in the coming months."
• A Gallup survey of almost 2,600 Gulf Coast residents showed that depression cases are up more than 25 percent since the BP explosion and oil spill in the gulf five months ago.
A "well-being index" in the Gallup study concluded that many coastal residents were stressed out, worried and sad at a higher level than inland residents. The survey, which ended in August, was conducted over eight months before and after the spill in 25 counties from Texas to Florida.
BP has provided $52 million for mental health care in the gulf region.
On the upside, fears are easing that the economy will slip into a double-dip recession. New unemployment claims have fallen as corporate profits have strengthened. Meanwhile, stock prices have not only avoided a September swoon so far, but also are on track to put the Dow Jones Industrial Average even for the year.
The Florida consumer confidence index report, which rose two points to 68, also had glimmers of hope.
All five of the components that make up the index were up for the month. The biggest jump came in expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next year, which rose four points. The next biggest gain came in whether consumers consider this a good time to buy big-ticket items, which rose two points.
"It seems increasingly less likely that we will fall into another recession," McCarty said. "However, there are still a number of drags on the economy, and we should expect confidence to oscillate between the upper 60s and lower 70s at least through the end of the year."
Information from Times wires was used in this report.