Washington Consumers' Confidence Up

Washington area consumers are more optimistic about the region's economy than they were in December, according to a survey released today, but slightly fewer now say they expect to purchase a big-ticket item such as a new car or furniture in upcoming months.

The region's Consumer Confidence Index, a survey commissioned by the Greater Washington Board of Trade, rose seven points to 56 from 49. The survey, following the initial baseline sampling in December, is based on phone interviews with 1,208 consumers in the region.

Respondents' views of the economic health of the region brightened in nearly every category of the survey. The index of current conditions rose to 39 from 36. The future expectation index rose to 72 from 62. And even with the rising unemployment rate, nearly four out of five people in the survey said they expect their employers to maintain or expand jobs, Board of Trade officials said.
But 31 percent said they expect to buy furniture, appliances, a vehicle or a TV in the next six months, down from 33 percent in December.

While 56 is not a great overall number, the seven point jump is "noteworthy and significant," said James C. Dinegar, president and chief executive of the Board of Trade. Consumers, not yet able to translate the confidence into purchases, are "absolutely still hunkering down," he said. "They've been getting promotions and additional benefits but they've been saving this money."

The portion of renters expecting to buy within the next six months dropped to 9 percent from 13 percent and the number of consumers expecting to sell their homes in the next six months remained unchanged at 3 percent. But more said they believe the value of their homes will increase -- 22 percent, compared with 16 percent in December. And more plan to spend at least $5,000 on home repairs -- 25 percent, up from 23 percent in December.

Views about the area's economy diverged among racial groups. African Americans and Hispanics were more confident about the overall economy than whites. While whites were more optimistic about current economic conditions, blacks and Hispanics had higher expectations for the future.

Nonwhites were "hit harder in the economic downturn [but the survey] counters that," Dinegar said, adding that he believes having an African American president has helped blacks feel more positively about economy.

-V. Dion Haynes

By Terri Rupar  |  May 7, 2009; 4:07 PM ET  | Category:  Economy , Economy Watch
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