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Consumer confidence in Florida jumps in May

Maybe the rest of the country should visit Florida for an injection of optimism.

Americans' confidence in the economy in May posted its biggest drop in eight months as consumers fretted about slow hiring, a big stock market drop and the global economy, according to the Conference Board's monthly index released Tuesday.

The national consumer confidence index fell to 64.9, down from a revised 68.7 in April. It was the biggest drop since October 2011 and far below the reading of 70 expected based on a FactSet poll of analysts.

Among Floridians, however, consumer confidence made an unexpected jump in May, a University of Florida survey found.

Overall, consumer confidence rose three points in the month to 77, reversing a three-month decline and putting the index nine points higher than the year-ago level.

Chris McCarty, survey director within UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, called the state's turnaround welcome but also strange given "the potential fiscal cliff" looming. Among the pressing economic issues he cited: expiring tax cuts that could result in higher taxes for most households; the threat of mandated automated cuts in domestic and military spending; and another congressional battle over raising the debt ceiling.

One likely cause for renewed optimism is the falling price of gas. In Florida, gas prices have dropped almost 33 cents a gallon over the past month to $3.47 a gallon. Also aiding optimism: Florida's unemployment rate has steadily fallen for more than a year, reaching a three-year low of 8.7 percent in April.

McCarty said the rise in confidence was particularly strong among those under age 60 and those with household incomes above $30,000.

Three of the five index components used in the study showed rising confidence. The biggest single jump, an eight-point surge, came in expectations among respondents that their personal financial situation would improve in the coming year.

Consumer confidence is closely tracked because consumer spending fuels about 70 percent of economic activity.

UF's monthly telephone survey is benchmarked to 100, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2; the highest is 150. So the current index, though up strongly from a year ago, is still relatively weak.

The national index is likewise well below a reading of 90 that would indicate a healthy economy, but it's above the range in the 40s from last fall.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Consumer confidence in Florida jumps in May 05/29/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 10:00pm]
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