1. Business

Florida's unchanged consumer confidence index masks big swings

More than at any time since the Great Recession, Floridians are confident that it's a great time to buy big-ticket items like a car. The only problem: They are feeling too pinched to pay for it.

Florida's consumer confidence level in February was unchanged at a reading of 78 for February, according to the University of Florida's monthly survey released Tuesday. But that was deceptive, as the five components used to calculate the index were all over the map.

The measurement of whether survey takers felt their personal finances are better today than a year ago dropped five points to 61; a measurement of their expectations of whether they'll be better off economically a year from now also sank five points to 75.

Chris McCarty, director of UF's Survey Research Center, said the steep decline was surprising. "It was particularly sharp among seniors, although both young and old respondents were pessimistic about their future finances," he said. "It's not clear where this growing pessimism is coming from, unless consumers are anticipating a rise in the cost of borrowing and lower home values."

That big drop was countered by a huge upswing in the measurement of whether it's a good time to buy big-ticket items. That jumped eight points to 94, the highest level since April 2007, just before the recession began.

The survey also revealed Floridians' confidence in the U.S. economy over the next year rose one point to 77, while their faith about economic conditions five years out remained unchanged at 81. The index is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence as in that year. The reading has hovered just below 80, a relatively restrained level of consumer enthusiasm, for the past four months.