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GAINESVILLE, FL-Consumer confidence in the Sunshine State remained flat in October after increasing the previous month, in line with the expectations of economists, according to the latest survey results by the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The index of 72 is slightly below the 74 reading taken in September.

Chris McCarty, the bureau’s survey director, says Florida consumers are more optimistic about their current personal finances yet less so about the US economy. They may stay bullish on buying opportunities when they see merchants lower prices in advance of the upcoming holiday season, though most forecasts predict no growth in retail sales after a disappointing 2008, he says.

“Floridians should prepare for more bad news through the first quarter of 2010,” McCarty says. “If retail sales growth is as low as expected, sales tax revenues will not meet expectations,” which he adds could lead to a $2.6-billion state budget deficit and more cost-cutting by the Legislature.

Components of the monthly Florida Consumer Attitude Survey that increased were perceptions toward personal finances and buying big-ticket items, while expectations of the national economy in both the short and long term declined slightly. The state economic picture remains mixed when considering retailing, housing and the stock market, McCarty says.

“Home prices in most Florida markets have held steady over the past few months although they are down an average of 43% from the peak values reached in June 2006,” he says. The near-term stability may be caused by first-time homebuyer activity leading up to the expiration of the $8,000 federal tax credit expiring Dec. 1.

The UF research center conducts its monthly consumer survey by randomly phoning at least 400 households statewide. The survey is benchmarked to 1966.

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