Consumer confidence in the Buffalo Niagara region, long ranked among the lowest in the state, surged during the fourth quarter, pushing the area back into the middle of the pack among upstate metro areas.
Lower energy prices, a rising stock market and a new governor all contributed to a strong improvement in consumer confidence statewide during the final three months of 2006, but nowhere was the gain steeper than in Buffalo.
The quarterly report on consumer confidence issued Tuesday by researchers at Siena College showed that consumers in the Buffalo Niagara region now rate as the fourth most upbeat among the state's six major metropolitan areas, after ranking dead last for a year.
"Buffalo is booming," said Douglas Lonnstrom, the director of the Siena Research Institute, which conducts the quarterly survey of 400 consumers in each of the state's six major metro areas.
"While we're up, we're still not at great levels yet," he said. "Buffalo was at the bottom, so therefore, there was room for improvement."
Lonnstrom said the start of the Spitzer administration, which entered the State House with other Siena polls showing that a majority of New Yorkers feel the state is headed in the right direction for the first time in two years, could be a major source of the renewed optimism statewide.
The stabilization of the local auto industry, following a wave of buyouts and early retirement incentives, also could be helping confidence levels in the Buffalo Niagara region by easing some of the concerns about the future of the local auto plants, he said.
The surge in local consumer confidence during the fourth quarter pushed sentiment levels here to their highest point in more than four years after finishing the third quarter at the their third-lowest level since the institute started conducting its survey in the fall of 2001.
The jump in consumer confidence was felt statewide, with confidence levels rising in all six of the state's major metro areas included in the survey.
"I would not be willing to say this is the start of a trend," Lonnstrom said. "We had a great quarter."
The survey, which measures the willingness of consumers to spend, also showed that local consumers are far more optimistic about their future spending plans than they were in the third quarter.
Their outlook for the coming months soared during the fall to their highest level since the third quarter of 2002 and pulled the region to fourth place from last among the state's major metro areas.
Confidence among Buffalo Niagara residents about their current situation also grew solidly, with local consumers now ranking as the second most optimistic in the state.
Overall consumer confidence in the Buffalo Niagara region soared by 12.7 points to 79.1 during the fourth quarter, still below the 86.4 reading in Albany, where upstate consumers were the most upbeat, and lagging well behind the national level of 92.5.