As if the coronavirus outbreak and the beginning of hurricane season wasn’t enough to rattle consumer confidence, current civil unrest in many cities across Florida and throughout the U.S. could derail some minor gains in consumer comfort in the Sunshine State.
“Some businesses are just closed because of the protests,” said Hector Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at the University of Florida who oversees consumer confidence reports for the Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
Sandoval said May brought a slight rebound to consumer confidence in Florida after radical plunges in perceptions and spending by Florida residents in March and April. While the reopening of many businesses in May helped consumer confidence tick up, the protests, violence, vandalism looting during clashes with law enforcement in many cities may throw confidence back into uncertainty – if not outright fear.
Clashes with police came in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis May 25.
“All the protests that are happening around the country is something I was not expecting last month,” Sandoval said from his office in Gainesville. “If it lasts longer and if it keeps going for many days through June, I can see where that will effect economic activity.”
Many businesses across the country have already been damaged due to widespread unrest.
The protests are also crowding participants and marchers close together and social distancing has been mostly abandoned. Even some COVID-19 testing sites were closed. Sandoval said that could help COVID-19 rebound in a second wave of infections in the latter part of the summer into the fall. The potential of a second wave will likely lead to consumer uncertainty.
Sandoval’s ominous predictions come as his bureau’s research showed Florida consumers were just starting to feel more confident after work-at-home and business restrictions were incrementally lifted.
May’s consumer confidence registered at 76.4 on a scale of 2 to 150. The May figure is up one tenth of one percentage point from April’s consumer confidence figure of 76.3.
While May’s figure shows an increase in consumer confidence, it is still woefully low compared to the consumer confidence score in February before the coronavirus outbreak set in for Florida. February’s consumer confidence level was 102.3, but plummeted to 88.8 in March and bottomed out in April.
The drops were the most significant declines in month over month consumer confidence since UF economists began tracking it in 1995.
“The decline in consumer confidence was fueled by growing pessimism… due to the economic damage brought by the coronavirus outbreak,” Sandoval said.
UF researchers surveyed 383 Florida residents using cell phone interviews between May 1-28.