Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Caressa Swenson shops at the Hip & Humble store in Salt Lake City Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns' opinion of the economy is climbing, according to a new report.

The Zions Bank Consumer Attitude Index rose five points in February to 84.8 — the highest level recorded since the index debuted in January 2011. In comparison, the national Consumer Confidence Index jumped 9.3 points to 70.8.

Recent traction in the economic recovery has facilitated a surge in optimism this month as more Utahns adopt a favorable view of the economy, said Randy Shumway, chief executive officer of The Cicero Group.

"We saw inflation grow at an appropriate and healthy pace in January … two-tenths of a percent," he said. The national inflation rate was twice as high as Utah at four-tenths of a percent.

The state's lower price at the gas pump was the major factor in the keeping consumer prices in check, Shumway explained. Utah gasoline prices were among the lowest in the country in January.

However, Shumway said that the impending rise in fuel prices would likely "be an obstacle or impediment to economic growth" in the coming months.

"Increasing gasoline (prices) will affect people's pocketbook. It increases the cost of clothing, the cost of food and the cost of transportation." Shumway said.

But he noted that the hike in gas prices may be offset somewhat by stability in other economic sectors, such as increased productivity, improvements in the housing market, rising employment and the rapidly improving stock market.

"All of those data points … will positively (influence) the negative impact of rising gas prices."

The Zions Bank Present Situation Index — a snapshot of current business conditions and employment — jumped 11.8 points to 61.2. Nationally, the CCI Present Situation Index increased 6.2 points to 45. Meanwhile, the Zions Bank Expectations Index for six months from now — a prime predictor of the direction of consumer spending — remained largely unchanged at 100.5, while the national CCI Expectations Index increased 11.3 points to 88. 

The Zions Bank CAI is based on a representative sample of 500 Utah households surveyed by The Cicero Group/Dan Jones & Associates. The Utah CAI data is compared to both Utah data and U.S. data from previous months to identify key consumer sentiment trends in the state.

Shumway said that even though the monthly increase in the attitude index was a positive sign, it should be taken with guarded optimism looking ahead to the spring and summer.

"We're seeing a steady, consistent uptick. We're seeing improvement," Shumway said. 

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