Lower gas prices boosted area confidence

Melanie Mellebranche of Central Islip fills her gas Melanie Mellebranche of Central Islip fills her gas tank in Hauppauge. Prices have dipped recently. (July 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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Consumer confidence in the metropolitan area was propped up last month by less concern over gasoline prices.

The Siena College Research Institute reported Thursday its confidence index for Long Island, New York City and its northern suburbs fell just 0.1 point to 77.8 in June from a month earlier.

A year ago, the metro-area index was 67.1. For all of 2012 it has been above 75, the level indicating the number of people bullish about their economic circumstance exceeds those who are pessimistic.

Siena pollster Douglas Lonnstrom credited the decline in the cost of gasoline: "No doubt, without gas relief consumer confidence would have been lower."

In Siena's June poll, 48 percent of metro-area residents said pump prices were either a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem. That's down from 60 percent in June 2011.

"The percentage feeling pinched at the pump was down again this month and is at the lowest rate we've seen in a year and a half," Lonnstrom said.

The number of consumers worried about the cost of food last month also declined but not as markedly. Sixty-three percent of metro residents said food prices were a "somewhat or very serious" problem. In June 2011, 68 percent said the cost of food was problematic.

Merchants follow consumer confidence because it can indicate whether shoppers are more willing to open their wallets.

Statewide, residents' spending plans for the next six months were largely upbeat. When asked about big-ticket purchases between now and December, consumers were more likely than a year ago to buy automobiles, furniture, computers and homes. They were less likely to start a major home improvement project.

Along the boardwalk in Long Beach Thursday, some shoppers said falling gasoline prices meant they have money for other purchases.

"I was hoping to take a nice vacation this year, and now it looks like I can," said Jim Arnold, a retiree from Rockville Centre. His top destination is South America.

Separately Thursday, The Conference Board announced its national confidence index of chief executives fell 16 points in the April-June period to 47. A reading higher than 50 points reflects more positive responses than negative.

Lynn Franco, the Manhattan board's economic indicators chief, said, "CEOs began the year quite upbeat, but the lackluster performance of the economy so far, and expectations of more of the same, have clearly impacted attitudes."

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