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Consumer confidence among Floridians rises to 15-year high

More Floridians believe it's a good time to buy a big-ticket item like a car. That's one reason the state's consumer confidence has risen to a 15-year high.
[File photo via McClatchy/TNS]

More Floridians believe it's a good time to buy a big-ticket item like a car. That's one reason the state's consumer confidence has risen to a 15-year high.
[File photo via McClatchy/TNS]

Published Apr. 4, 2017

Florida consumers last month were the most confident that they have been since 2002, long before the onset of the Great Recession triggered a prolonged slump.

The University of Florida's March survey — the most recent data — found that consumers are optimistic about their own finances, present economic conditions and the future of the economy.

"Importantly, these views are shared by all Floridians, independent of their demographic characteristics and socioeconomic status," Hector H. Sandoval, director of UF's Economic Analysis Program, said in a release.

The optimism is particularly pervasive with women, people younger than 60 years old and people with an income below $50,000.

The Sunshine State's confidence is reflective of a nationwide trend. Florida's consumer confidence level is currently at 99 out of 150. Florida's high came after a six month climb. The index increased from 89.8 in October 2016 month over month until January, when it dropped from a 97.3 to 93.8 before rising to this month's ranking.

"In general, the economic outlook is very positive, and the positive sentiment will aid the economy to expand even further," Sandoval said.

For instance, the survey found that many people think it's a good time to purchase big-ticket items for homes, such as a car or a refrigerator.

February job numbers released last month by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity showed the state's economic recovery slowing down. The state lost 5,000 jobs from January to February, but the unemployment rate held steady at 5 percent from January and from February 2016.

In an interview with the Times, Sandoval said that while it is "puzzling" that Floridians are optimistic given the slowdown, the optimism likely comes from looking back at how they were previously doing economically.

"They'll say, 'okay I'm better off'" compared to a year ago, Sandoval said. "Economic stability gives confidence to people."

Part of the national optimism may be because of consumers' lower standards.

"Like economists who have lowered growth prospects, consumers have done the same, and have thus judged lower rates of growth more favorably than they would have in an earlier era," Richard Curtin, University of Michigan's chief economist for Surveys of Consumers, wrote in the national survey results.

Nationally, Curtin found, partisanship also plays a role in consumer sentiment. Democrats predict an upcoming recession and inflation, as well as lessened income and more unemployment. Republicans, meanwhile, foresee an uptick in employment and economic growth with lower inflation.

"It is a rare situation that combines increasing optimism, which promotes spending, and rising uncertainty, which makes consumers more cautious spenders," Curtin said.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com. Follow @malenacarollo.

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