1. Business

Florida consumer confidence zooms to five-year high

Published Sep. 26, 2012

Floridians are feeling better about the economy now than at any other point since the onset of the Great Recession.

The state's consumer confidence index zoomed to a five-year high of 79 — up three points from a revised August reading of 76, according to a monthly University of Florida survey released Tuesday.

"The last time Florida consumer confidence hit 79 was in October 2007," said Chris McCarty, director of UF's Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "At that time, confidence was on its way down as the housing crisis was getting under way. This month's index comes at a time when the economy is still in recovery."

The results mirrored a national survey released Tuesday that showed consumer confidence jumped to its highest level in seven months in September.

The Conference Board, an industry group, said its measure of consumer attitudes rose to 70.3 from an upwardly revised 61.3 in August. It was the highest level since February and topped economists' expectations for 63, according to a Reuters poll.

Fueling the surge: Americans were more optimistic about the job market and income prospects. Among other reasons for improved attitudes: Housing prices have been gradually rising in recent months and the stock market has held on to the gains made in the last two years.

"Despite continuing economic uncertainty, consumers are slightly more optimistic than they have been in several months," Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement.

The Florida survey showed increases in all five components that researchers use to measure short-term and long-term confidence. The biggest jump was a three-point rise in expectations the U.S. economy will be stronger a year from now.

The lowest level of confidence came in the measurement of whether survey takers think their own finances are better off now compared to a year ago.

Despite the relative rise in confidence, McCarty cautioned that there are still numerous drags facing the economy — high gas prices; a drought threatening further increases in food prices; the year-end "fiscal cliff" facing the national budget; high unemployment; and thousands of discouraged job seekers who have stopped looking for work.

Many of those issues are expected be addressed during presidential debates next month.

October, McCarty said, should prove an interesting month for consumer confidence.

The UF survey is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year.

Times wires contributed to this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or jharrington@tampabay.com.


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