1. Business

Florida consumer confidence still heading up

Bring on the sequestration and higher payroll taxes. Toss in slower economic growth. None of that is denting the optimism of most Floridians.

The University of Florida reported Tuesday that the state's consumer confidence index rose three points in April, the second consecutive monthly increase, reaching its highest point this year.

A national survey by the New York-based Conference Board also released Tuesday showed consumer confidence unexpectedly up in April, rebounding from a drop-off in March. The Conference Board's index climbed to 68.1, exceeding the highest estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Chris McCarty, survey director within the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said most economists would have expected confidence in the economy to be eroding as Americans face steeper taxes and federal budget cuts.

Nevertheless, those surveyed statewide were dramatically more optimistic, not just about their current finances but also expectations that they will be better off financially a year from now. Their trust in the current economy also rose three points.

The Florida index stood at 79 in April, a level of modest optimism but far better than late 2008 when it was hovering in the 50s. The economic barometer is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 indicates the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest possible index is 2; the highest is 150.

There were a few notable distinctions in the latest data, with younger and wealthier consumers more likely to be confident.

Confidence among Floridians making less than $30,000 a year fell by six points, but it rose four points for those earning more than $30,000. Similarly, confidence surged 10 points for those under 60 while falling three points among those age 60 and older.

McCarty cited a few reasons consumers may be feeling more financially fit: median housing prices statewide have risen to a 4 1/2-year high of $160,000; the stock market has been breaking records; and unemployment continues to drop, reaching 7.5 percent last month.

But any exuberance could be short-lived.

Many economists, McCarty pointed out, are still waiting for the effects of sequestration to ripple through the country, a process that could take months to unfold.