LI-area consumer confidence at 5-year high

Things could get busier on the car dealership Things could get busier on the car dealership lots in the New York City metro area in fall 2012. The number of people expecting to buy cars and furniture hit a five-year high in September, according to a Siena College Research Institute report. It's consumer confidence index in September is up 4.1 points from August. (March 28, 2012) Photo Credit: Bloomberg News

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Consumer confidence in the metropolitan area jumped last month to a five-year high, with many residents optimistic about their economic well-being.

The Siena College Research Institute reported Wednesday its confidence index for Long Island, New York City and the northern suburbs was 82.5 in September, up 4.1 points from the prior month.

The index is at its highest point since the 83.9 recorded in July 2007, five months before the recession started.

A year ago, the index was 64.3. Readings above 75 indicate the number of people who are bullish exceeds those who are pessimistic.

Statewide, consumer confidence rose 4.3 points to 78.2 in September compared with the previous month.

The results are "the most optimistic overall numbers we've seen in recent years," said Siena pollster Douglas Lonnstrom.

He credited the upswing, both locally and statewide, to politics and geography. Democrats and downstate residents, which represent majorities in New York State, were generally more upbeat about the immediate future than Republicans and upstaters.

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Lonnstrom said metro-area residents remain worried about the rising cost of gasoline and groceries. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed last month said gas prices were either a "somewhat or very serious problem." Sixty-four percent said the same about food.

Retailers, and politicians before elections, pay attention to consumer confidence because it can signal whether shoppers are willing to open their wallets.

Statewide, residents' spending plans for the next six months were expansive.

When asked about big-ticket purchases between now and March 2013, consumers said they were more likely than a year ago to buy an automobile, computer, furniture and home, or start a major home improvement project.

The share of respondents, 22.8 percent, expecting to buy furniture was the highest in five years.

In downtown Merrick Wednesday, some shoppers said they felt better about the economy.

"My daughter has been out of work for more than a year, but she just got a job," said Rosa Finella, a retiree from North Merrick. "Things seem to be turning around, finally. I'm hopeful about the future."

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