(Carl Cronan is editor of RealEstateFlorida.)

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GAINESVILLE, FL-The University of Florida's monthly ConsumerConfidence Index has fallen to the lowest point in its 25-yearhistory, hitting 57 in June. That's even below the index of 63posted in May, which broke the previous record of 64 from December1991.

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"These are by far the worst readings we have ever seen," saysChris McCarty, director of the Survey Research Center at the UFBureau of Economic and Business Research. "There is no other way tointerpret these numbers other than to say that Florida consumersare hurting. Based on these results, I would have to predictconsumer spending in Florida to pull back dramatically in thecoming months."

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The news does not bode well for retailers in Florida, who haveseemingly traded strong population growth in recent years for a newtriple-whammy of rising unemployment, a still-declining housingmarket and higher prices for gas and food. Making matters worse,the index component addressing big-ticket purchases fell to 47 inJune from a previous record low of 64.

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John Crossman, president of Orlando-based Crossman & Co. andSoutheast Alliance co-chair for the International Council ofShopping Centers, says the current retail market outlook is amatter of perspective. For example, Florida's housing market wasconsidered overheated just two years ago, yet prices forcondominium units have since been discounted by as much as 60%.

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"There is bad news out there, and there is good news," Crossmantells GlobeSt.com. "It's a great time to be signing leases, andsome landlords are offering extra incentives. You can getconstruction done faster now than you could last year. There arealways two sides to the coin."

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McCarty says the bleak near-term outlook for Florida consumersis based on a variety of factors, from a significant jump in Mayunemployment rates statewide to federal rebate checks being spenton necessities. While home prices have yet to stabilize,indications are that they are near the bottom.

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"The current economic decline began with housing and in manyways it will end with housing," McCarty states in the latest index."We expect further declines for May, June and July, with housingprices hitting their low soon thereafter."

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The university has conducted its Florida Consumer AttitudeSurvey since 1983, with June's index based on 360 responses fromrandom household telephone surveys. The index aims to help predictbuying patterns by measuring consumers' mood toward purchasing.

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