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Consumer confidence weakened in Buffalo area

Springtime didn't do much to brighten the spirits of upstate consumers, but the downbeat feelings didn't hit quite as hard in the Buffalo Niagara region.

Consumer confidence here weakened this spring for the first time since last fall as high energy prices and a weakening U.S. housing market weighed on consumers, according to a survey by researchers at Siena College.

But the decline in overall consumer confidence here was less severe than it was in any of the eight New York metropolitan areas covered by the Siena Research Institute survey of consumer sentiment. That pushed the Buffalo Niagara region, which had the weakest consumer confidence levels in the state during the first three months of the year, up to fifth during the spring quarter.

"Consumer confidence took a hit across the board this past quarter," said Douglas Lonnstrom, the director of the Siena Research Institute, which conducts the quarterly survey of 400 consumers in each of the state's eight major metro areas. The survey previously had focused on six metro areas until Utica and the mid-Hudson Valley were added in the lastest poll.

Despite the modest drop in consumer confidence locally, sentiment levels here remain just shy of their highest point in more than four years.

Confidence levels here rebounded late last year from a swoon that had left confidence in the Buffalo Niagara region last summer at their third-lowest level since the institute started conducting its survey in the fall of 2001.

Overall consumer confidence here slid by three points during the second quarter to 76.6, which still is far less upbeat than the 86.9 national sentiment index and weaker than the statewide average of 81.3

But the gap between confidence levels in the Buffalo Niagara region and the rest of the state has narrowed markedly since last fall, pulling within 5.5 points of Albany, which has the highest sentiment levels among the seven upstate metro areas included in the survey.

Confidence among Buffalo Niagara residents about their current spending plans weakened only slightly, allowing local consumers to move up a spot to rank as the third most optimistic in the state, although that's still down from No. 2 in the fourth quarter.

The biggest downside in the survey, which measures the willingness of consumers to spend, is that local consumers are less optimistic about their future spending plans than they were in the first quarter.

While local consumers' future confidence level still is at its third-highest mark since the third quarter of 2002, it remains the lowest among the six metro areas that have part of the survey since its inception.


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