At the start of the new year, tensions between the United States and Iran were running high, and University of Florida researchers were watching to see whether that conflict weighed on consumers’ minds as oil prices rose.
Instead, Florida consumer confidence remained strong and did not change from December to January, according to a monthly survey done by the university’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. With Florida unemployment reaching the lowest level ever recorded, consumer confidence ran a little higher than it did at the start of 2019.
Now researchers are curious to see whether a new set of geopolitical events — the spread of the coronavirus and the resulting restrictions on travel and trade with China — will have any effect on how Floridians feel about their own finances and the economy more generally.
“Looking ahead to the coming months, we anticipate consumer sentiment to remain around the same levels,” bureau director of economic analysis Hector H. Sandoval said in an announcement of January’s survey results. "Nonetheless, consumer confidence might change its trend as disruptions to supply chains and other travel restrictions affect economic activity in China.”
With consumer spending driving about 70 percent of U.S. economic output, the mood of the buying public is an important determinant of the direction of the national economy.
In January, the bureau called 575 Floridians across the state on their cell phones to ask five questions: how they feel about their personal finances now compared with a year ago, what they expect their finances to be like a year from now, whether this is a good time to make a large household purchase like an appliance, and what they expect the national economy to be like in a year and five years from now.
Results were mixed. Compared with the December poll, slightly fewer respondents expressed optimism about the state of their own finances now compared with a year ago and whether this is a good time to make a major household purchase. At the same time, slightly more were upbeat about what they expected their personal finances to be like a year from how.
Every month, the bureau uses the survey results to score Floridians’ consumer sentiment on an index that ranges from a low of 2 to 150. January’s result was 99.4, the same as in both November and December and up 1.3 points from where it was 12 months before.