By John Haughey | The Center Square
A University of Florida survey has found consumer confidence in Florida – sky high weeks ago – has plummeted, a distinction that could have repercussions on how quickly the state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UF Survey Research Center announced Tuesday it recorded last week the largest month-to-month plummet in Floridians’ consumer confidence since it started tracking consumer sentiment.
“The decline in consumer confidence was fueled by growing pessimism” due “to the economic damage brought by the coronavirus outbreak,” UF Bureau of Economic and Business Research Analysis Director Hector H. Sandoval said in a statement.
According to the survey, after reaching its highest level in almost 20 years in January, consumer confidence among Floridians dropped 13.5 points in March to 88.8 from a revised figure of 102.3 in February. The survey of 337 individuals reached on mobile phones was conducted from March 1 to March 26.
Consumer sentiment at the national level experienced a decline of 11.9 points, according to UF, noting for context, the largest sustained drop in consumer confidence nationwide was 11.7 points in the wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
According to UF’s survey, consumers said they will be hesitant to make significant purchases for weeks, if not months, after the COVIFD-19 outbreak peaks.
“Opinions as to whether this is a good time to buy a major household item like an appliance dove 29.1 points, from 108.6 to 79.5, the steepest decline in this month’s reading,” Sandoval said. “As a result, we observe the largest declines in confidence coming from consumers’ opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket item and their expectations about the national economy in the short-run.”
Expectations for the nation’s economy over the next year is down 20.1 points among Floridians who participated in UF’s survey.
The UF Survey Research Center said it projects consumer confidence to decline as long as the measures to contain the outbreak remain in place.
“The cumulative economic losses are bringing to an end the economic expansion that started in July 2009," Sandoval said. "For Florida, a state with a large portion of economic activity in industries severely affected by these measures, the downturn will potentially be more severe.”
While federal and state policymakers are beginning to grasp the enormity of what is coming down the pike, Florida officials also are dealing with the reality that some state safety net systems are failing despite not yet experiencing the anticipated full brunt of a viral wave expected to peak in early May.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeated calls for Floridians to be patient as the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s CONNECT claims system manages a deluge of new applications for benefits.
“We are working on it, but this is not just zero to 60. This is like zero to 120 trying to do it,” DeSantis said in West Palm Beach last week, noting daily claims have grown from 500 a day to 900 a day at the start of March to more than 25,000 a day in the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health reported 6,741 COVID-19 cases in the state – including 85 deaths – and 857 hospitalizations.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. The disease has caused at least 3,807 deaths in the U.S., with more than 186,000 confirmed cases in the country. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.