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Region's consumer confidence up slightly But it trails state's other metro areas

Consumers in the Buffalo Niagara region are feeling a little more upbeat, but their outlook once again is gloomier than residents of other upstate metro areas.

Consumer confidence levels here improved slightly in the first quarter, building on the fourth-quarter surge that had boosted confidence levels to their highest levels in more than four years. But consumers in four other upstate metro areas and New York City felt even better, buoyed by low interest rates and a mild start to winter.

That pushed the Buffalo Niagara region back into last place among the six metro areas where researchers at Siena College measure consumer confidence levels after rising to 4th during the final three months of last year.

"You're still in last place, but your confidence is up a little bit," 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.

Lonnstrom said Wednesday the optimism surrounding the early months of the Spitzer administration, which began its term with a majority of New Yorkers feeling the state is headed in the right direction, contributed to the burst of optimism statewide. But he noted Spitzer's ratings in other Siena polls have declined as the state budget was being hammered out.

"Spitzer came in with a lot of good will and said he was going to move things forward," Lonnstrom said.

The modest increase in local consumer confidence during the first quarter pushed sentiment levels here to their highest point in 4 1/2 years, just six months 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 even stronger statewide, with confidence levels rising in all six of the state's major metro areas included in the survey.

Overall consumer confidence in the Buffalo Niagara region inched up by half a point to 79.6 during the fourth quarter, well below the 90 reading in Albany, where upstate consumers were the most upbeat, and lagging well behind the national level of 92.2.

"I don't know if it's going to stay up," Lonnstrom said. "I think a lot is going to depend on energy prices."

The only negative aspect of the survey, which measures the willingness of consumers to spend, was that local consumers are slightly less optimistic about their future spending plans than they were in the fourth quarter. But their future confidence level still is at its second-highest mark since the third quarter of 2002.

Confidence among Buffalo Niagara residents about their current spending plans improved at a faster rate, but local consumers now rank as the fourth most optimistic in the state, down from second in the fourth quarter.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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