Florida Consumer Sentiment Rises in March

The March reading is an 11-month high, though it’s still 3.9 points below its March 2015 peak, which was the highest reading in a decade.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – April 4, 2016 – Consumer sentiment among Floridians rose in March to 93.4, up 1.6 points from February's revised figure of 91.8, according to the latest University of Florida (UF) consumer survey.

The March reading is an 11-month high, though it's still 3.9 points below its March 2015 peak, which was the highest reading in a decade.

Of the five components that make up the index, four increased and one declined.

Expectations of personal finances a year from now showed the greatest increase, from 99.4 to 105.5 (up 6.1 points month-to-month).

However, perceptions of personal financial situations now compared with a year ago declined slightly from 83.9 to 83.2. Opinions as to whether it's a good time to buy a big-ticket item such as a car went up two-tenths of a point to 101.3. These two components that reflect current views about the economy have moved together over the past year without displaying any significant trend.

"These readings do not genuinely explain the observed change in the consumer sentiment index between February and March," says Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "Perceptions among Floridians about present economic conditions have remained quite stable during the past months, indicating, first, the certainty that Floridians have about the economy, and second, the overall positive economic conditions that have prevailed in the state."

Both short- and long-run views of the U.S. economy increased slightly. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next year rose 1 point to 88.3, while anticipated U.S. economic conditions over the next five years rose 1.2 points to 88.5.

The increase in consumer sentiment was driven by Floridians 60 and older, whose perceptions about the current economic conditions and both short- and long-run expectations of the national economy are at their highest levels in the last year. "One thing to notice, however, is that over the past year, this segment of the population tends to display a higher variance in their perceptions," Sandoval adds.

Economic data in Florida continue to be mostly positive, particularly in the labor market. The unemployment rate dropped again in February from 5.1 to 4.9 percent. This decline has been steady over the years since the peak in 2009-2010, after the Great Recession. Of particular note, the Florida unemployment rate has finally matched the U.S. unemployment rate at 4.9 percent.

Compared with February 2015, the number of jobs added statewide was 243,200, a 3 percent increase. The sector gaining the most jobs was professional and business services, followed by leisure and hospitality, transportation and utilities, and education and health services.

"The positive trends in the labor market combined with the optimistic expectations about the U.S. economy will surely have a positive effect on Florida's economy in the coming months," Sandoval says.

Conducted March 1-27, the UF study reflects the responses of 447 individuals reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross-section of Florida. The index used by UF researchers 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.

© 2016 Florida Realtors®. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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