Coronavirus’ latest casualty: Consumer confidence
Photo: Flickr/Joseph Schneid

It's the worst decline in the state's history.

COVID-19 has taken many casualties. The latest, according to a long-running statewide survey, is consumer confidence.

The UF Survey Research Center’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research announced on Tuesday the largest month-to-month plummet in the poll’s history was in March

“The decline in consumer confidence was fueled by growing pessimism” due “to the economic damage brought by the coronavirus outbreak,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

“After reaching its highest level in almost 20 years, consumer confidence among Floridians plummeted 13.5 points in March to 88.8 from a revised figure of 102.3 in February. Similarly, consumer sentiment at the national level experienced a decline of 11.9 points,” pollsters contend.

For context, Hurricane Katrina’s drop had been the biggest in history, at 11.5%.

Especially wounded, consumers have lost their appetites for big-ticket purchases.

“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.”

The second steepest decline was in expectations for the nation’s economy over the next year, which was down 20.1 points.

“As consumers stay home and businesses shut down in an effort to contain the spread of the virus, consumer spending has quickly slowed, and massive layoffs have occurred across the state and country. 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,” Sandoval said.

“Looking ahead, we expect 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. 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,” Sandoval said.

Indeed, policymakers are only beginning to wrangle with the unexpected seismic change.

Gov. Ron DeSantis described the impact as being “not just zero to 60, but zero to 120 … a crush that we’ve never experienced in this country.”

“In Florida,” DeSantis added, “we had 200 claims, 500 claims, 900 claims a day. Now we’re … probably at 25,000 this week.”

“That’s also going to be a challenge on the backend of this,” DeSantis said. “I’m mindful of trying to do this in a way that’s not going to do unnecessary damage to people’s livelihoods.”

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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