James Herz, of North Babylon, fills up his company car...

James Herz, of North Babylon, fills up his company car at a Gulf station in Ronkonkoma this week. (April 4, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Consumer confidence in the metropolitan area slumped last month as gasoline prices surged, according to a new poll.

The Siena College Research Institute reported Thursday that its confidence index for Long Island, New York City and its northern suburbs dropped 5.2 points to 76.5 in April compared with a month earlier.

However, April's reading remained above 75, the level in the Siena index that indicates the number of people bullish about their future exceeds those who are pessimistic. The index has been above 75 for four straight months.

"Overall consumer confidence dipped in April . . . as gas prices took a toll on residents' current outlook," said Siena pollster Douglas Lonnstrom. "Gas prices began to ease as the month ended, which should translate into some consumer relief."

In the metropolitan area, 61 percent of the adults surveyed last month said pump prices were either a "somewhat or very serious problem." That's an increase of 9 percentage points from January.

Worries about grocery prices in the region fell 4 points to 65 percent in the same period.

Retailers follow consumer confidence because it often signals the willingness of shoppers to open their wallets. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity nationwide.

Statewide, the spending plans of residents were mixed. When asked about big-ticket purchases in the next six months, consumers told Siena they were more likely to buy computers or homes or start a major home-improvement project. However, fewer people expected to buy automobiles or furniture.

At the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City Thursday, some shoppers said they felt constrained in making purchases by the high cost of gasoline.

"I seem to be spending more money each week to fill up the tank," said Ricky Schwartz, 21, a college student from Mineola. "I've definitely cut back on other things . . . I don't go out as much" to bars and nightclubs.

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