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Pandemic blamed for plummet in consumer confidence

Consumer confidence across New York state tanked in the first quarter of 2020, due primarily to the effects of COVID-19, a new report from Siena College Research Institute shows.

The Quarterly New York State Index of Consumer Sentiment shows a 27-point drop in overall confidence among consumers statewide to its lowest point since November 2011. Overall confidence for the quarter was 66.4, down from 93 in the fourth quarter of 2019 and 93.3 a year ago. Current confidence fell to 62.2, while future confidence dropped to 69.1. Current confidence statewide is more than 15 points below the breakeven point at which sentiment is balanced, SCRI reported.

Among upstate consumers, overall sentiment dropped more than 23 points to 68.9 from 92.4 in the last quarter and 89 a year ago. It was the first time since the second quarter of 2018 that upstate confidence was higher than the state as a whole.

Current confidence among upstate consumers fell to 66.3 in the first quarter from 100 in the final quarter of 2019, while future confidence fell to 70.6 from 87.6 in the previous quarter.

Nationally, as reported by the University of Michigan, overall confidence in the first quarter was 89.1, down from 99.3 in the previous quarter. Current confidence was 103.7, down from 115.5 in the final quarter of 2019, while future confidence fell to 79.7 from 88.9.

“As the Coronavirus took hold of New York, consumer sentiment fell precipitously, signaled a sudden collective feeling of pessimism and reached a low not seen since 2011. A large plurality of consumers now thinks that the state’s business conditions this year, as well as economic times over the coming five years, are in trouble,” said SCRI Founding Director Doug Lonnstrom. “In 20 years of tracking consumer sentiment in New York, we’ve seen more pessimism but never a drop this severe in this short of a time.”

In the first quarter, buying plans across the state were down in all categories including vehicles, consumer electronics, furniture, homes and major home improvements. Plans to purchase electronics were down more than 52 percent from the fourth quarter of 2019.

Republicans reported the highest consumer sentiment statewide at 79.7, while Democrats reported the lowest at 59.9. But consumers in every category are feeling the pinch; statewide, 55 percent of consumers said food prices were having a somewhat or very serious effect on their wallets.

The SCRI poll was conducted from March 30 through April 2 via random phone calls to more than 400 New Yorkers and 400 responses drawn from an online panel.

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