Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Economic Forecasts, Expert and Otherwise

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Economic Forecasts, Expert and Otherwise

Article excerpt

After being hit early and hard by the Great Recession, Florida rebounded in 2013 to lead the nation in economic growth, fueled by an increased demand for housing.

Better housing prices, in turn, have boosted consumer confidence among Floridians to its highest level since the recession began in 2007.

"Looking forward, Florida will extend its lead over the national economy over the next several years," said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith, in a newly released "Florida & Metro Forecast 2014-2017."

Snaith predicts that housing and construction will continue to propel the state's economy for the next few years.

Consumer confidence among Floridians, meanwhile, rose three points in March to 81, according to a University of Florida survey. That puts the index at the high end of a year-long plateau.

The state's consumer confidence index is now "as high as we have achieved since before the recession began in December 2007," said Chris McCarty, director of the university's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Historically, a number in the 90s indicates more general optimism, he said, and the state remains short of that.

"It is not terrible, but this isn't a really optimistic number," McCarty said of the 81 figure. "What drove that increase this month was mainly the perceptions of personal finances, now compared to last year and looking out a year.

By comparison, nationally consumer confidence in March rose to its highest reading in six years, according to the Conference Board's monthly tally. Its index was 82.3 for March, versus a February reading of 78.3.

Conference Board economist Lynn Franco said consumers are moderately more upbeat about job prospects and the overall economy, though less optimistic about income growth.

Consumer confidence is closely watched because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity.

For Florida, McCarty noted that the gains are largely the result of improving prices for homes, coupled with gains in the nation's stock markets.

The improved housing picture played a key role in Snaith's forecast, as well.

Derailed by a housing boom that turned into a bust, Florida's economy was one of the first among the states to feel the effects of the national recession. …

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