Here’s a switch: Consumers in the Buffalo Niagara region are feeling a little better about buying – and no other major city in New York could match that slightly sunnier outlook during the summer.
A new survey released Wednesday by researchers at Siena College found that local consumers were a little more willing to spend on major purchases during the summer than they were during the spring. In fact, their willingness to spend during the summer was at the second-highest level for any quarter since the Great Recession began almost six years ago.
The less than 1 percent improvement in sentiment came at a time when consumers in every other major metro area in New York were saying they were less likely to buy.
“Buffalo did the best,” said Douglas A. Lonnstrom, founding director of Siena Research Institute, which conducts a quarterly survey of consumer confidence in New York’s major cities. “I’m not sure you’re happier than everyone else, but you were the only ones who made some increases.”
Lonnstrom said the summer had some bright spots early on but ended with consumers facing a growing unease over the federal government shutdown that began this month and continues with the threat of an even more painful economic blow if Congress fails to reach an agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling by next Thursday.
As a result, consumers said, they were less likely to make major purchases in the future in each of the nine major metro areas included in the Siena survey, including Buffalo.
“We started this quarter with a fair amount of optimism” from declining unemployment rates to improving home sales, Lonnstrom said. “By the time we got to September, people were talking about the government shutting down and defaulting on its bills.”
But what boosted Buffalo’s overall consumer confidence, which was tied for third-highest in the state with Rochester, was the willingness of local consumers to spend during the summer, when optimism improved by almost 5 percent and left the region at the top of the rankings for current buying plans.
Local consumer confidence has increased for three straight quarters and has improved by about 4 percent over the last year – the second-biggest gain of any New York State metro area, behind only Syracuse. The summer gain also extended the slow recovery in consumer sentiment levels that began during the summer of 2010 and has seen confidence readings jump by almost 25 percent during that time.
But the region still has more room for improvement. The number of consumers who are pessimistic about their buying plans still outnumber those who are optimistic by about 3 percent. And confidence levels here still are a little less than 10 percent lower than the national average.
The survey of 400 consumers measures their willingness to spend on a wide range of items, from vehicles and furniture to computers and home improvements.
Among other upstate cities, sentiment levels fell the most in Utica and Syracuse, and they declined the least in Rochester and New York City, the survey found.
The survey also continues to show a wide gap between the current buying plans of local consumers and their plans for future spending. While consumers in Buffalo Niagara ranked first statewide on their willingness to spend now, they ranked sixth on their long-term spending plans. Sentiment levels locally are about 21 percent lower for the future than they are for now.