Consumer confidence among Floridians rose two points in July to 84, hitting another post-recession high for a second consecutive month, according to a new University of Florida survey.
"While an index of 84 is not historically high, it does reflect far more optimism than we have seen over the past year," said Chris McCarty, director of UF's Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
The last time Florida consumers were this confident was April 2007, prior to the recession, when the housing market was beginning to unravel. The Consumer Sentiment Index peaked at 98 in January 2004. The 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 2; the highest is 150.
"Overall, we are quite a bit behind where we would typically be this far out from the end of a recession, but we had a lot further to go in this recovery," McCarty said.
Two of the five components used in the survey showed an uptick in confidence in the national economy since June. Survey-takers' trust in its performance over the next year rose four points to 84, while their expectations for the country's economic health over the next five years went up seven points to 85.
They also remain optimistic about whether this is a good time to buy major household items, such as a refrigerator, maintaining a post-recession high of 94 since last month.
Respondents, however, were slightly pessimistic about their own personal finances. Their perception of being better off financially now than a year ago fell two points to 74 after reaching a post-recession high of 76 in June. Meanwhile, their expectations of enjoying improved finances a year from now fell one point to 82.
Floridians' increasing optimism is happening despite mixed economic signals, McCarty said. For example, although the state's employment situation continues to improve, with the unemployment level declining one-tenth of a percent to 6.2 in July, some question the quality of the new jobs, particularly in the service sector, McCarty said.
"Construction employment has made solid gains but is still far below the level it was prior to the recession," he said.
Record-high stock market prices in June were good news for both the employed population and retirees with equity investments. The state's housing prices were also up last month, with $185,000 the median price of a single-family home. "However, there are some signs that housing gains may slow as both housing starts and sales of existing homes slowed in southern states," McCarty said. "Economists are waiting to see if the decline is noise or part of a trend."
Floridians also might be upbeat because the federal government continues to control inflation, McCarty said. In addition, gas prices in Florida have fallen since June and have been headed down since April.
"Given the current trends here in Florida, our expectation is that consumer sentiment will continue to rise slightly in the short run," McCarty said. Potential negative factors are mostly external such as a rise in short-term interest rates in the fall, the effect on consumers from escalation of conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine, and a significant correction in the stock market.
Conducted from July 1-24, the study reflects the responses of 410 individuals, representing a demographic cross-section of Florida.
Details of the July survey can be found at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/cci.
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