UF Economists: Florida Consumers Remain Confident At Christmas
GAINESVILLE — Consumer confidence in Florida rose one point in December, reflecting buoyancy about personal finances and lack of concern for Y2K, University of Florida economists report.
The preliminary index for December inched up to 104, signalling continued good news for retailers, said Chris McCarty, survey director with UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
“Consumers are telling us that they are generally very optimistic about their finances in the year 2000 and about economic conditions over the next year,” McCarty said. “Unless there are some surprises Jan. 1, it appears that consumers are willing to celebrate by opening their wallets.”
Retail sales this Christmas reflected upbeat consumer attitudes, reports Telecheck, a national check acceptance service that noted a 5.8 percent increase in sales by check over last year, McCarty said. In the past, sales have fallen in November and December relative to those in January and February, he said.
The holiday sales season also was a strong performance considering the unseasonably warm weather, which often hurts stores expecting to sell winter clothing during the holiday season, he said.
Brightening the future outlook is the little thought given to the Y2K computer glitch, a programming snag that will cause some computers to misread dates after the turn of the century, McCarty said.
According to a bureau-conducted survey, while most people (94 percent) have heard of Y2K, only 26 percent think it will affect them personally. Among those who think Y2K will affect them, the most commonly anticipated trouble is computer problems (36 percent), followed by drops in the stock market and increased criminal activity.
Fueling this month’s rise in confidence was an eight point increase from a year ago in the component measuring perceptions about personal finances which rose from 92 to 102, he said.
However, the component measuring whether it is a good time to buy big-ticket items such as appliances and cars continues to fall, McCarty said. It is now 110, down three points from November and 11 points lower than at this time last year, he said.
“There is some pessimism about buying expensive consumer items that frequently are purchased on credit,” he said. “This growing pessimism is attributed to the interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve.”
The bureau conducts the Florida Consumer Attitude Survey monthly. Respondents are 18 or older and live in households telephoned randomly. The preliminary index for December was calculated from 540 responses. The margin of error for the index is 3 percent.
Consumer confidence is designed to help predict buying patterns by measuring consumers’ moods toward buying. Although other conomic indicators also are predictors of buying patterns, consumer confidence tends to be available sooner than those indicators.