Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Consumer attitudes in Utah peaked during the holiday shopping season, showing record confidence in the month of December.
The Zions Bank Consumer Attitude Index jumped 14.1 points in December to 81.9 — its highest level ever, compared with 67.8 in November. The national Consumer Confidence Index climbed 9.3 points to 64.5. An index of 70 or below is indicative of slow economic growth.
The dramatic increase and heightened Utah consumer optimism was attributed to the combination of an improving labor market, moderating inflation driven by falling gasoline prices and a recovering stock market, according to Randy Shumway, chief executive officer of The Cicero Group/Dan Jones & Associates. A record start to the Christmas shopping season was also a major contributing factor, he added.
"We're seeing positive momentum in the economy right now," Shumway said. "This season's strong holiday shopping sales is indicative of a growing level of optimism and confidence. Santa Claus delivered for our economy."
That upbeat attitude was prevalent among a number of shoppers Tuesday at The Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City.
"For the first time this quarter, my husband actually got a commission bonus," said Coralee Carroll of Centerville. "So it is a better quarter, and we will go spend."
"As the economy gets better and things look better, that translates into what we're bringing home," said Provo resident Jamie Brady. "My husband's in school and working and I'm working so things are a little tighter, but the next year does look better."
That confidence was displayed as many Utah consumers opened their wallets this month at numerous local businesses. One of those retailers impacted was The Bicycle Center — a specialty bike shop in Salt Lake City.
Owner Philip Blomquist said his store saw sales increase about 10 percent year over year in 2010 and 2011.
"Consumers spend more money here than they have in the past," Blomquist said. "The outdoor business, in particular the bicycle business, continues to be good."
The shop carries bicycles that range in price from $400 up to $10,500. Blomquist even commented that he had already sold 10 of the highest price models so far this year.
Economic growth is expected to continue, Shumway said, prompting greater optimism from consumers. The result has been more belief in a variety of economic sectors, including jobs, income and housing. However, there are still some challenges to overcome.
Despite this year's inflation, wages have remained largely stagnant, the report stated. But an increasing number of Utah consumers believe this situation may change in the near future, he said.
Consumer confidence is stabilizing home prices this month, prompting 73 percent of Utah homeowners to believe home prices in their communities will remain unchanged or increase over the next 12 months, the report stated.
"Most Utahns are cautiously optimistic," Shumway said. "We have a fertile field in which the economy can flourish."
Overall, consumer attitudes have taken a more positive direction, the report stated, with 22 percent of Utahns surveyed stating the economy is likely to improve during the next 12 months, compared with just 14 percent last month.
"We see much of this being a self-fulfilling prophecy," Shumway said. "Economic growth is buoyed by optimism. (We're) forecasting continued confidence here in Utah, all of which bode well for unemployment as well as economic growth."
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