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Seniors trigger unexpected jump in Florida consumer confidence

Here's another good reason to listen to your elders during these uncertain economic times: They're an increasingly optimistic bunch.

Consumer confidence among Floridians aged 60 and up jumped 11 points in October compared to a more modest 2-point rise for those under 60.

As a result, the overall consumer confidence index in Florida rose six points to 74, its highest level in six months, according to a new University of Florida survey.

Chris McCarty, director of UF's survey research center, acknowledged Tuesday that he was surprised at the senior spike. "This is an odd result when the biggest news for seniors during October was the announcement on Oct. 15 of no cost-of-living adjustment to Social Security," he said.

Earlier, McCarty predicted confidence would stay in the upper 60s or lower 70s until Floridians saw a clearer path toward dealing with high unemployment and a struggling housing market.

Among possible reasons for a surge in optimism, he suggested, are historically low interest rates, bargains on condominiums, some enthusiasm over political candidates, and at least a partial moratorium on foreclosures to make sure banks are following proper paperwork procedures.

All five components of the index rose, led by a 10-point jump in perceptions about whether this is a good time to buy big-ticket consumer items. Perceptions of personal finances now compared with a year ago rose 6 points; perceptions of personal finances a year from now rose 7 points; and perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next year rose 5 points.

The most restrained optimistic uptick was perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years, up 2 points.

Despite the jump, overall confidence levels are far below levels consistent with a healthy economy. McCarty predicted that, barring a significant economic change, consumer confidence will likely decline next month.

"As we get closer to the holiday season, consumers should expect increases in both gas and food prices, which will likely affect consumer confidence and holiday sales," he said.

Separately on Tuesday, the Conference Board reported U.S. consumer confidence levels rose slightly in October, up from a seven-month low.

Much of the gain was tied to future expectations. Consumer sentiment over the job market and economic health of the country remained at relatively low levels, bolstering expectations of a tepid holiday shopping season.

Seniors trigger unexpected jump in Florida consumer confidence 10/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 9:50pm]
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