Is this as good as it gets?
Floridians’ optimism about their own finances and the national economy was higher in February than anytime in almost 20 years, according to a monthly consumer confidence survey produced by researchers at the University of Florida.
The next question is: Will consumers remain as ready to spend going forward now that the coronavirus has reached Florida?
We’ll see, said Hector H. Sandoval, the survey director at the university’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
“Despite Florida’s current positive economic outlook, consumer confidence might change its current trend as the global economy slows down as a result of potential economic disruptions and travel restrictions associated with the coronavirus outbreak,” Sandoval said Tuesday in an announcement of the results.
Sandoval isn’t alone in raising the question. The Federal Reserve on Tuesday also unexpectedly cut interest rates by half a percent, saying that “the coronavirus poses evolving risks” to a national economy that otherwise is fundamentally strong.
Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation’s economic activity, so the mood of the buying public is no small matter. In February, University of Florida pollsters called 422 residents statewide on their cell phones to ask how they felt about:
• The state of 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 major household purchase like buying a refrigerator or other big appliance.
• What they expect the U.S. economy to be like in a year, and then in five years.
In all five categories, Floridians were more optimistic than they had been in January, though men generally were more upbeat than women. Every month, researchers sift through the results to come up with a single index number that reflects Floridians’ overall consumer confidence on a scale of 2 to 150. February’s index number was 102.6, up three points from January and the highest since November 2000.
That’s not really a surprise, researchers said, considering the state of the overall economy: Job growth in Florida has topped national growth every month except one since April 2012, and unemployment fell to a record low of 3 percent in December.
But they noted that the last week of February saw the biggest one-week drop in the stock market since 2008 amid jitters over whether the coronavirus outbreak would hamper growth by disrupting worldwide manufacturing and distribution.
Separately, the chief economist for the pro-business Florida Chamber Foundation said last week that economic uncertainty caused by the spread of the coronavirus had increased the chance that the state’s $1 trillion economy could go into recession over the next nine months to 24 percent. Along the way, chamber economist Jerry Parrish said, the growing health scare could hit some Florida industries — especially international tourism, cruise ships, importing, exporting and manufacturing — harder than others.