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Floridians worry about finances as consumer confidence stays flat

Floridians have greater faith that the national economy is recovering but worry that they're missing out on the rebound, a survey released Tuesday indicates.

Indeed, even as the state's overall consumer confidence remained unchanged in December, Floridians are increasingly pessimistic about their own finances as unemployment rises and housing prices continue to fall.

"Recently, Florida has had a little more bad news than good news," said Chris McCarty, who coordinates the monthly consumer confidence survey as director of the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Among other statistics, McCarty noted that unemployment statewide has reached a 34-year high of 11.5 percent and the median price of a single-family home in Florida has fallen the past few months from a 2009 high of $148,000 in June to $139,000 in November.

"There are some indications that other parts of the country, particularly those areas surrounding Washington, D.C., are improving while Florida appears to be lagging the economic recovery," McCarty said. "Some states are simply better equipped to benefit from the stimulus dollars; it is far from an equal distribution."

Also Tuesday, the national consumer confidence index was released, showing a better-than-expected increase in confidence in December. The New York-based Conference Board said the index is still far shy of what would signify a healthy economy, but Americans feel better about the job market than at any time in the past two years.

Economists track consumer sentiment because the spending on goods and services accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

According to the Florida survey, perceptions of personal finances now compared with a year ago fell three points to 46. The perception of whether it is a good time to buy big-ticket consumer items slipped two notches to 76.

In contrast, Floridians' perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next year rose two points to 67, while perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years rose three points to 75.

Overall, with the split between national and personal confidence, Florida's consumer confidence index stood unchanged at 69 for December.

McCarty said further pain may lie ahead.

"There is a strong possibility that Florida's unemployment could cause housing prices to decline even further as unemployed homeowners face foreclosure," he said. "This does not bode well for consumer confidence, and therefore consumer spending, as we enter the new year. …

"With a $2.6 billion deficit looming and no clear indication as to how Florida's economy will recover over the next year, 2010 could prove to be very similar to 2009," he added.

Times wires contributed to this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8242.

Confidence rising around nation

The New York-based Conference Board

said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 52.9, up from 50.6 in November, but the reading is still far short of the 90 that would signify a solid economy. In October,

consumer confidence had reached 48.7.

The index, which hit a historic low of 25.3

in February, had enjoyed a three-month

climb from March through May, fueled

by signs that the economy might be stabilizing. The road has been bumpier since June as rising

unemployment has taken a toll on consumers.

but not in Fla.

Florida's consumer confidence index remained at 69 in December, unchanged from November. The University of Florida compiles the index based on a monthly telephone survey. The index is benchmarked to 1966, meaning a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year.

Floridians worry about finances as consumer confidence stays flat 12/29/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 7:40pm]
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