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Gas prices drive down consumer confidence in March

Published Mar. 27, 2012

Rising fuel prices put a damper on consumer confidence in Florida this month.

Consumer confidence dropped two points to 74, repeating a trend from last year, when consumer confidence dropped four points in March, according to a survey from the University of Florida.

The rising gas prices, which have climbed about 15 cents per gallon in the last month, will cause consumers to rein in their discretionary spending, said Chris McCarty, director of UF's Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. This pullback will likely slow down the economic recovery and could have adverse effects on Florida tourism, which up until now has been doing fairly well, he said.

And since gas prices aren't expected to drop any time soon, McCarty said he expects consumer confidence will continue to decline in coming months.

Typically, he said, gas prices decline slightly in the spring and then rise in the summer. That wasn't the case either this year or last year.

Last year, unrest in the Middle East and the earthquake in Japan drove down consumer confidence. This year the conflicts with Syria and Iran and resulting fuel costs are at fault.

"There's mistrust in the market, and I think that translates down to the consumer level," McCarty said.

On a more positive note, he said, the stock market has been performing well with the Dow Jones Industrial Average above 13,000, and housing prices in Florida have stopped dropping.

Even though they don't think much of national economic conditions, the respondents in the UF survey feel more financially stable as individuals than they did a year ago and are confident that their personal finances will continue to improve over the next year.

The consumer confidence index is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2; the highest is 150.