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Floridians remain wary about the economy, survey finds

Consumer sentiment inched up very slightly during May, but Floridians are still much more pessimistic about their finances and the economy than they were before the pandemic.

With businesses beginning to reopen in May, Florida consumers began to feel a little more hopeful about money — but not much.

Two months ago, consumer confidence in Florida dropped like never before as efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus led to widespread stay-at-home orders. In May, a monthly survey found that it rose one 10th of a point on an index that the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research uses to track consumer confidence over time.

The survey reached 383 Floridians on their cell phones. On the bright side, more respondents said they felt their finances would be better a year from now than they are now. More also said this is a good time to make a major household purchase like an appliance.

But they were more pessimistic in three other areas: how their finances now compared with what they were a year ago, as well as what they expect the U.S. economy will be like in a year and in five years.

Related: Is surging unemployment just the first domino to threaten Florida's economy?

Overall, this seems to represent a leveling off in consumer outlook following what amounted to an induced coma for the economy, bureau director of economic analysis Hector Sandoval said Wednesday.

Consumer spending drives about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, making shoppers an important barometer of the nation’s fortunes.

“Looking ahead, as consumer spending increases and economic activity restarts in Florida, we expect consumer confidence to increase in the following months,” Sandoval said. “However, it is important to keep in mind that the latent threat of a potential second wave of coronavirus will also affect consumer confidence.”

Related: A second wave of coronavirus? 'It’s like a smoldering fire,' an expert says. 'When the conditions are ripe, it just takes off.'

Another potential wild card: the protests that have swept U.S. cities over the past week. If they continue, and if, for example, they led to business closures or curfews that restrict residents’ movements, that could show up in how confident consumers feel in June, Sandoval said.

Every month, the bureau analyzes survey responses to plot Floridians’ consumer confidence on an index ranging from 2 (the most pessimistic) to 150 (the most optimistic). During the year before the pandemic, consumer confidence scores were running around 100 or close to it on the scale. They started falling in March and hit 76.3 in April before rising to 76.4 in May.

A monthly survey by the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research finds that consumer confidence among Florida consumers during May remained a lot lower than it was a few months ago. [ University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research ]

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