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Consumer confidence in region increases; Levels at highest point in nearly 5 years

Consumers in the Buffalo Niagara region haven't felt this upbeat in five years.

After years of putting off purchases as the economy sputtered, local consumers are ready to start spending again, according to a quarterly survey of consumer confidence conducted by researchers at Siena College.

"We haven't seen this for a while," said Douglas Lonnstrom, the founding director of the Siena Research Institute, which conducts the quarterly consumer confidence survey in nine New York State metro areas.

"Consumers, whether looking back, forward or when taking stock of today, are more upbeat than they've been in nearly five years in every single region of the state," Lonnstrom said.

Consumer sentiment is more buoyant in the Buffalo Niagara region than it's been since the first quarter of 2007, months before the Great Recession hit. 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.

"Consumers remain cautious," Lonnstrom said. "But with most buying plans up, and after years of delaying purchases as part of the new normal, they say they are ready to return to spending on most items, especially home improvements and furniture, as they did before the recession iced their spending habits."

Consumer confidence jumped strongly during the first quarter across the state, although the nearly 10 percent increase in Buffalo Niagara was the smallest among the state's metro areas. Confidence levels are 12 percent higher in the Buffalo Niagara region than they were a year ago.

"Every region recorded healthy gains in willingness to spend," Lonnstrom said.

Still, consumer confidence locally is 11 percent below its peak before the recession began, the survey found.

Consumer confidence in the Buffalo Niagara region ranks in the middle of the pack among the nine metro areas included in the Siena survey. Buffalo ranked sixth, just behind Syracuse but slightly ahead of the Mid-Hudson Valley.

The survey also showed a wide gap exists between the current buying plans of local consumers and their plans for future spending. While consumers in Buffalo Niagara ranked first in the state for their current spending plans, they remain extremely cautious in the expectations for future spending, which ranked eighth in the state. Only consumers in Binghamton have a more pessimistic long-term outlook.