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Utah consumer attitude down slightly; gas prices rise

Published: Tuesday, March 27 2012 2:35 p.m. MDT

Tom Sweigart, left, and Zac Jenks enjoy the skywalk at City Creek Center in Salt Lake City, Monday, March 26, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns’ confidence in the local economy took a slight hit in March as fuel prices continued to rise.

The Zions Bank Consumer Attitude Index fell 4.9 points to 79.9, while the U.S. Consumer Confidence Index decreased 1.4 points to 70.2 — a 9.7-point difference.

Today, Utahns are paying approximately 23 percent more for regular gasoline in the state compared to just three months ago, according to the report.

Despite rising fuel costs, consumer confidence about the economy remains strong, said Randy Shumway, chief executive officer of The Cicero Group.

"Most importantly, consumers’ attitude toward the local labor and housing markets continues to be optimistic," he said during a news conference at City Creek Center. "Most economists cite sustained confidence in the labor and housing markets as a key indicator of a healthy economic recovery."

The Zions Bank Present Situation Index — a snapshot of current business conditions and employment — declined 6.3 points to 54.9. Nationally, the CCI Present Situation Index climbed 4.6 points to 51. Meanwhile, the Zions Bank Expectations Index for six months from now — a predictor of the direction of consumer spending  — decreased 3.9 points to 96.6, while the CCI Expectations Index fell 5.4 points to 83.0. 

Shumway said that while rising gas prices have many Americans concerned, recent government data showed that consumers are not closing their wallets. The U.S. Commerce Department reported that retail sales rose 1.1 percent in February, the largest monthly increase since September 2011.

U.S. automakers also reported having the best annual sales pace in four years last month, up 1.6 percent.

"Higher fuel prices are still a threat to consumer confidence, but recent reports indicate that spending habits have not been weakened," he said.

City Creek business owner Dan Ray confirmed those sentiments when describing the better-than-expected opening weekend of his Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory confections store located in the new downtown shopping center.

"We're up about 30 percent from my original projections, which were "pie-in-the-sky high," Ray said. He attributed the increased volume to the new enthusiasm brought on by the new center.

"It's like this city just got a heart transplant, and we just fired up a new heart," he said.

Ray said sales were so brisk that he expects to hire six more people to his staff of 12 already.

The report stated that consumer attitudes toward the labor market held strong in March, indicating Utahns are becoming more confident in the local recovery. Twenty-eight percent of Utahns, compared to 15 percent just six months ago, believe there will be more jobs in the market during the next six months.

The more positive perception signals that Utahns are becoming more optimistic in their ability to find a job, Shumway said. Over the last 12 months, confidence in job stability has risen from 56 percent to 71 percent, he noted.

To date, the CAI stands 9.7 points higher than the U.S. Consumer Confidence Index, indicating that Utahns continue to maintain a more positive economic outlook than the average American, Shumway said.

The index is based on a representative sample of 500 Utah households. The monthly survey is conducted by The Cicero Group/Dan Jones & Associates. The monthly data are compared to both Utah and U.S. data from previous months to identify key statewide consumer sentiment trends. 

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com

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