Upstate New Yorkers signaled a greater willingness to spend for the fourth consecutive month in February, even as statewide and national consumer confidence stagnated.
The overall consumer-confidence index for upstate New York climbed 2.4 points to 71.9 in February, according to a survey from the Siena (College) Research Institute (SRI). Upstate residents felt more comfortable about their current situation than they did about the future, the survey found.
Still, both current and future confidence grew in Upstate. Current confidence increased 3 points to 76.9, and future confidence climbed 1.9 points to 68.6 in the region.
While upstate residents continued to follow a recent trend of rising confidence, statewide consumers were lukewarm in February. Consumer confidence in New York State as a whole remained unchanged since January, suspended at 74.8, according to SRI.
It is lingering just under the SRI index’s break-even point of 75. That is the point at which consumers indicate equal amounts of optimism and pessimism. Readings below 75 show that more consumers responded to the survey with negative answers than positive ones. Any results above 75 indicate more consumers gave positive answers.
“These are fascinating figures to me,” says Douglas Lonnstrom, professor of statistics and finance at Siena College and SRI founding director. “If we go back to January, [statewide] consumer confidence was up about 8 points. And in February, we stayed absolutely flat — no movement at all. One thing is offsetting the other.”
Current confidence rose across New York State in February, but was offset by consumers cutting back on their outlook for the future. New York State’s current confidence climbed 1.5 points to 73.5, and its future confidence dipped 0.9 points to 75.7.
The metropolitan New York City area counterbalanced Upstate’s confidence gains. New York City’s overall-confidence index went down 1.3 points to 76.9. Its current confidence ticked up 0.4 points to 71.6, but its future confidence skidded 2.4 points to 80.3.
Consumer confidence in New York State was similar to that measured nationally by the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index. Overall national consumer confidence edged up 0.3 points to 75.3 in February from 75.0 in January, according to that index. Current national confidence slipped 1.2 points to 83. Meanwhile, future national confidence inched up 1.2 points to 70.3.
A separate survey report measuring national consumer confidence, issued by The Conference Board on Feb. 28, showed U.S. confidence jumping to 70.8 in February from 61.5 in January.
New York buying plans
New Yorkers’ buying plans fell in February in five categories that SRI measures. That’s a reversal from January, when buying plans rose in each one of those five categories.
“That does not surprise me, given that the consumer-confidence index held the same,” Lonnstrom says. “People have got to feel better before they start buying, and that didn’t happen this month.”
The share of consumers who indicated they plan to buy a car or truck fell 1.4 points to 11.9 percent. The portion who said they plan to buy computers dropped 0.4 points to 15.9 percent.
Consumers’ plans to purchase furniture declined 1.9 points to 19.7 percent, and plans to buy homes eroded 0.3 points to 3.7 percent. Finally, plans to spend on major home improvements tumbled 3.1 points to 14.2 percent.
Gas and food prices
A majority of upstate New Yorkers continued to express concerns about gasoline and food prices, the survey found. However, the portion of consumers worried about those prices decreased in February — a fact that surprised Lonnstrom.
“I thought that concern would shoot up,” he says. “Gas prices have gone up 20 days in a row.”
In February, 67 percent of upstate New Yorkers said gasoline prices posed a problem, down slightly from 69 percent in January. And 69 percent expressed concerns about food prices, down from 75 percent in January. Finally, 56 percent of upstate survey respondents indicated both gasoline and food prices were a problem, which was down from 60 percent in January.
Statewide, 59 percent of residents named gasoline prices as a problem, which was even with last month. The share of residents naming food prices as a problem was 66 percent in February, lower than January’s reading of 71 percent. And 49 percent of state residents claimed both gas and food prices posed a problem, lower than January, when 51 percent cited both gas and food.
Residents may be getting used to higher food prices, Lonnstrom says. But survey results show that concern for gas prices jumped in the second half of February, he adds.
“We’re flirting with four bucks a gallon, talking about five bucks,” he says. “If that happens, that’s going to hurt consumer confidence.”
SRI conducted the survey by making random telephone calls to 804 New York State residents over the age of 18 in February. Margin of error does not apply to the consumer-confidence index results because they are derived from statistical calculations, according to SRI. However, buying plans have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 points, the institute said.