GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jan. 2, 2012 – Consumer confidence among Floridians rose three points to 69 in December, reflecting cautious optimism in the economy, according to a recent University of Florida (UF) survey. Though the latest figure is only one point below the level set in December 2010, it marks the highest rank in the past nine months.
The index used by UF researchers in the survey 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.

The survey result comes from five measured indexes, and four of the five rose while one declined.

The index that gauges whether Floridians think their personal finances have improved from a year ago rose one point to 53. Attitudes about the soundness of the U.S. economy jumped six points to 59. Confidence in the economy’s performance over the next five years also rose three points to 71. Finally, survey takers overall perception that it’s a good time to buy “big ticket” items such as washing machines and laptops went up sharply by seven points to 85.

The index that fell measured survey takers’ attitudes about their personal finances one year from now, declining two points to 78.

Taken as a whole, the UF survey reflects a changing mood that matches growing confidence across the nation, says Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Both younger and older respondents interpreted some Florida economic factors positively in December, which has not always happened; and men were more positive than women by a margin of 71 points to 67.

“Floridians are most likely optimistic about continued improvement in the employment situation,” McCarty says.

The decline in unemployment in November was 0.4 percent, and the first time in many months that sectors other than tourism led the way in employment increases. McCarty says that employers in trade, transportation and utilities employed 34,800 more workers from October to November. However, he cautioned that many of these new jobs were in retail trade and may reflect holiday seasonal hiring that could disappear in early 2012.

McCarty also suggested several other reasons for the change in mood. Retailers are offering big seasonal discounts to shoppers and mortgage interest rates are low, for example. In addition, he says housing prices may have “bottomed out” for a while, hovering about around $130,100 for a single-family home. Gas prices are down, too. A gallon cost about 15 cents less than it did in November, though prices are expected to rise in 2012.

Stock prices were unsteady but did not sink in the wake of bad economic news coming from Europe, as some economists expected. Media reports about the U.S. Congress’ wrangling over debt and spending issues also didn’t sour consumer confidence. “Contrary to our prediction, the impasse of the Super Commission regarding deficit reductions came and went with very little concern from consumers,” McCarty said.

Overall, the mood for December is modestly upbeat, McCarty says.

The UF survey was conducted between Dec. 11 and Dec. 22, and reflects the responses of 411 individuals statewide.

Source: Florida Realtors