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State consumers feel confident

Whether it's the sunshine or something else, Florida consumers are growing more confident while the rest of the nation is feeling more gloomy.

The University of Florida's Florida Consumer Confidence Index for October rose from 88 to 90, while the Conference Board's national index registered a decline from 89.5 to 87.6.

The two surveys ask different questions, but both are used to measure how freely consumers are likely to spend as the holiday shopping season approaches.

In fact, Florida economist David Denslow is predicting good things for the state's retailers based on the results of the consumer survey.

"This year's volume of holiday sales should exceed 1993's by 5 percent," Denslow said. "Asked about the coming year, people are optimistic both for themselves and for the nation. Perhaps the best news for retailers is that the share saying now is a good time for major purchases is 67 percent, up from 57 last year. The only brake on spending is that interest rates have risen."

Small month-to-month changes are not necessarily significant. However, the national number shows the continuation of a downward trend, while the state number has been relatively stable. Both numbers are up from levels of a year ago.

A Tampa Bay Index the university compiles also shows a strong gain, from 79 to 93, over the past year.

The Florida results are reinforced by other statistics that show about 200,000 more Floridians have jobs than a year ago and real income, adjusted for inflation, is up about 5 percent.

On the other hand, the national survey found increased concern about job prospects and less willingness to spend on major purchases.

In the sometimes upside down world of Wall Street, that was hailed as good news Tuesday because it could be a sign that the economy is slowing. Strong economic growth has ignited fears of inflation and prompted the Federal Reserve Board to raise interest rates to cool the economy.