SALT LAKE CITY — Consumers in the Beehive State are historically optimistic about the state's economic fortunes, according to a new survey.
The Zions Bank Utah Consumer Attitude Index climbed 11.6 points to register at 129.5 in March, the highest level ever achieved by the index. Nationally, the Consumer Confidence Index declined 2.3 points to register at 127.7 for the month — still 2.8 points higher than at this same time last year, the report states.
"One thing we noticed in the survey was that Utahns are less positive about the federal government and the federal approach to the economy than they were a month ago," said Chad Berbert, principal with Cicero Group. "Even though in Utah you see perceptions about how the state government is doing improving over last month, the perception is the federal government did worse."
Even so, he reiterated that both overall indices are at high levels, indicating strong consumer confidence both locally and nationally. He also noted that a slight increase in the rate of inflation could also play a factor in consumer attitudes.
Annualized inflation rates in Utah have been around 3 percent for a number of months now, Berbert said. While it is a bit higher than the 2 percent national target rate, it is still within reason, he said.
The report shows that the Utah Present Situation Index — a measure of current economic conditions — rose 9.4 points to register at 134.2, while the Utah Expectations index — which measures consumer sentiment for the next six months — jumped 13 points to register at 126.3, representing record-high levels for both indices, Berbert noted.
The increases were largely fueled by improved consumer sentiment about the current labor market, he said. The most recent survey data showed that 58 percent of Utahns feel that jobs are “plentiful” in their area — up from 46 percent a year ago.
"Job growth in the state has been really healthy for a couple of years now, and we don't see it (going) down anytime soon," Berbert said. "But we keep an eye on it as an indicator of things to come."
Historically, consumer sentiment statewide typically increases significantly in the month of March, as March and April are two of the strongest performing months for stock indices nationwide, he said. Optimism regarding the stock market is evident throughout the Beehive State, as 53 percent of Utahns feel a $1,000 investment in their 401(k) retirement account will be worth more than one year from now — up from 49 percent in February, he added.
“It’s reassuring to see that although Utahns have lost a bit of confidence in federal economic policy, they are still confident in local economic policymaking,” said Randy Shumway, chairman and partner of Cicero Group. “As policymakers statewide continue to support innovation and good governance, I see no reason as to why the economy shouldn’t continue to grow.”
The overall index is based on a representative sample of 500 Utah households surveyed monthly by Cicero Group — with a 95 percent confidence level with a variance of plus or minus 4.38 percent. The results are compared to both Utah data and national data from previous months to identify key statewide consumer sentiment trends.