CONSUMERS DISPLAY A RISING CONFIDENCE



Your beater has been on the road a lot longer than you ever expected it to last.

But all good things must come to an end. Even that 2002 Ford Focus.

And driven by need and seemingly more confidence in their pocketbooks, more Rochester-area consumers appear to be heading to auto dealers' lots, elec­tronics stores and hardware stores. Ac­cording to new consumer confidence survey data from the Siena College Re­search Institute, Rochester-area resi­dents are feeling increasingly upbeat about the economy and in turn are more willing to spend on big-ticket items like cars and light trucks or home improve­ments.

"There's definitely pent-up demand," said John Gabriele, president of Marina Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Webster. "Peo­ple are deferring until they feel they're in a position to make a purchase. But at some point they can't defer it any long­er."

Across New York's major metropol­itan areas, "Most buying plans are up, in­dicating that consumers intend to
 express their pent-up de­mand this spring," Insti­tute director Don Levy said in a statement. "Sen­timent remains fragile and could suffer from a debt-ceiling debacle, but right now it looks like consumers will spend more and add a little 'umpf' to this economy."

According to Siena's latest quarterly consum­er confidence data for the Rochester region, bullish sentiments were up across the board in the Rochester region and edging into "optimistic" territory.

For the fourth quarter, overall confidence local­ly was at 77.8, up nearly four points from the third quarter and seven points a year ago. Current confi­dence was 79.2, while fu­ture confidence was 76.9.

The fourth-quarter numbers by themselves are meaningless. But they - and the previous three quarters of 2012 - all were significantly higher than the quarterly numbers since the end of the 2007-2009 recession.

Other regions of New York showed similar gains, with Syracuse and Buffalo residents feeling more financially upbeat in the fourth quarter and 2012 overall than they generally had in years.

That confidence seems to be translating into consumerism.

According to Siena survey numbers for the Rochester region, 14 per­cent of respondents plan on buying a vehicle over the next six months, up more than three points from last quarter and above the historical aver­age of 11.4 percent. Also at or above historical av­erages were people say­ing they planned in the coming months to buy computers (14.8 percent) and furniture (14.8 per­cent). And 16.7 percent of respondents plan on do­ing some major home im­provement, down slight­ly from the historic aver­age.

Those spending plan prognostications come atop a holiday season when shoppers were al­ready fairly busy.

According to figures released this week by re­tail industry data firm ShopperTrak, national retail sales in November and December were up about 2.5 percent from the same months in 2011, with shoppers ultimately plopping down $248.8 bil­lion.

The 2012 holiday shop­ping season marked the third consecutive year with growing retail sales, according to Shopper
 Trak. Richard Ide, vice president at Dick Ide Automotive, said that while January and Feb­ruary typically are slow in the auto business due to the weather, "This year, we're starting off great. People are out buy­ing cars."

Meanwhile, the Pen­field collection of dealer­ships' Honda franchise had a record 2012, selling more than 1,650 vehicles,
 he said. "We're hoping to carry through and continue with the strong momen­tum," Ide said. Gabriele said Marina has seen continual grow­ing sales since 2009 as it reverses the dropoff in auto sales that the entire industry saw during the Great Recession. Rough­ly 14.5 million new cars were sold last year, while prior to that economic downturn the annual av­erage typically was be­tween 16 million and 17 million. One big driver of Ma­rina's rebound, Gabriele said, has been Chrysler's explosive growth. Chrys­ler accounted for 11.1 per­cent of new vehicle sales last year, vs. 10.6 percent in 2011. And its Decem­ber sales were up 10 per­cent from the same month a year earlier. "Chrysler's definitely on an upward trend," Gabriele said. "We're excited about 2013." 

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