In defiance of conventional wisdom — and much of the rest of the country — Florida consumers are feeling more chipper about the economy, according to a monthly survey released Tuesday.
Florida's consumer confidence index rose three points in March to 73, the University of Florida survey found.
"This rise was unexpected," acknowledged Chris McCarty, director of UF's Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "The fear has been that the combination of the payroll tax expiration and sequestration would dampen the recent growth in consumer activity. But Florida confidence is sharply out of line with that perception."
Things were different at the national level. The Conference Board on Tuesday reported that its national consumer confidence index fall sharply in March to 59.7, down from 68 in February. The retreat was driven largely by a big decline in expectations, but consumers were also more pessimistic about current conditions.
Likewise, a recent University of Michigan study found the confidence level for the entire U.S. fell by almost six points in the wake of federal budget cuts triggered by the sequestration process.
Floridians showed increased confidence in four of the five components measured by the telephone poll. One gauge in particular — whether consumers felt better off financially than a year ago — jumped four points to reach a level of optimism not seen since 1992.
The only drop came when respondents were asked if they would be better off financially a year from now.
McCarty suggested the higher confidence may be tied to lower gas prices, an improving housing market and the continued drop in Florida's unemployment rate, which recently fell below the national unemployment rate for the first time in five years.