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Floridians’ confidence in the economy ticked up in December

Consumers felt more optimistic about the health and future of the national economy even as they felt less hopeful about their own finances.

Florida consumers ended 2019 on an upbeat note, even as some had questions about their own finances, a monthly survey found.

"Overall, consumer sentiment among Floridians remains high,” Hector H. Sandoval, director of the economic analysis program at the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said in an announcement of the survey results.

Researchers asked 397 people from across the state how they felt about their finances and the national economy in general. Considering that consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the nation’s economic output, the monthly telephone survey provides a regular measure of a key indicator of the health of the U.S. economy.

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In December, Florida consumers felt more confident than they did in November about where the national economy is likely to be one year and five years from now. More consumers also said December was a good time to make a major household purchase like buying an appliance.

But while respondents felt good about the economy as a whole, views of their own finances compared to a year ago were more pessimistic in December than they had been in November. The drop was most pronounced among men, people younger than 60 and those with incomes under $50,000 a year.

Moreover, consumers’ confidence about where their finances will be a year from now sagged from month to month, and that sentiment was shared by all Floridians regardless of age, gender or income.

Both sides of those results — the general optimism and the pockets of concern, especially among people who earn less — made sense to David Carson, 64, who owned a pest control company in Dunedin and was president of another in Tampa before retiring and moving to Leesburg.

“I don’t understand how (people) with reasonable means can be looking at this economy and be negative,“ said Carson, who was not among those surveyed. "Everything’s positive, whether it’s the stock market or whether it’s employment. It just points upwards. Now, people who don’t make the money, I totally understand.”

The surveys allow University of Florida economists to assign a single index number to track fluctuations in consumer confidence on a scale of 2 (couldn’t get worse) to 150 (couldn’t be better). In December, that index ended up at 100.1, up from 99.4 in November.

Over the course of 2019, the university’s monthly surveys found consumer confidence rising early in the year and hitting a 17-year high in April. In August, researchers said the ongoing trade war with China caused a significant drop in consumers’ outlook. On average, consumer sentiment in 2019 was a 10th of a point lower than the average for 2018, but it still remained high.

With unemployment at a historic low of 3.1 percent and the addition of 217,400 jobs in Florida during November, researchers said Florida’s prospects for 2020 were encouraging. They released their report, however, before the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

On Friday, the price of oil shot up on concerns about what Iran might do in retaliation, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 167 points, or more than half a percent, early in the afternoon.

Asked whether his team would be watching to see whether geopolitical events have an impact on Floridian’s consumer sentiment, Sandoval said, “Yes, absolutely, we’ll be tracking and watching consumer sentiment in Florida.

“It is very likely that last night’s airstrike and the economic events that followed will have an impact on January’s consumer sentiment,” he said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.