Survey shows Tennessee consumers have increasingly positive view of U.S. economy

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Jan Wilson and Shirley Spann check out a scarf during a shopping trip to Merchants on Main. Super Saturday is the last Saturday before Christmas and one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

"Overall, this is very good news for Tennessee business and retailers." - Timothy R. Graeff, director of the Office of Consumer Research at MTSU

Tennessee consumers have an increasingly positive view of the U.S. economy, the state's economy, and their own financial futures, according to a recent consumer confidence survey from the Office of Consumer Research at Middle Tennessee State University.

"All three components of the index rose," said Timothy R. Graeff, director of the Office of Consumer Research at MTSU in a written summary of the results. "This suggests Tennessee consumers have increasingly more positive views of the current economy, are more optimistic about the future economy, and increasingly view now as a good time to make a large purchase."

The survey of 630 Tennessee residents was conducted between Dec. 4 and Dec. 9. Scores in the quarterly survey are based on consumers' answers to 11 questions, and this quarter's results reflect the highest overall scores since the survey was first conducted in September 2015.

"Overall, this is very good news for Tennessee business and retailers," Graeff said.

At the local level, Chattanooga business owner Missy Steiner speculates the timing of the December survey of Tennessee consumers may have some influence on the answers they offer.

"Whether the economy is up or down, at a certain point at Christmastime, people are just going to buy," said Steiner, who opened her Merchants on Main for a few hours on Christmas Eve to help out last-minute shoppers.

In the nine years her business has been open, Steiner has seen fluctuations in her business and her customers' spending, but those tend to be seasonal, Steiner said. "Summer is slower, kids are on vacation, school's out, but overall, it's remained steady," she said.

Perceptions of the job market are one factor of the consumer sentiment survey, and in November, Tennessee's unemployment rate of 3.3% was only a tenth of a percentage point above the all-time low of 3.2% during February, March and April. The Tennessee unemployment rate in November was 0.2% below the U.S. average.

"Positive views of the job market and improving perceptions of personal finances can provide comfort when making spending decision," the survey reported. On the question of whether now is a good time for a major purchase, 41% of Tennesseans said yes while 9% said no.

The Tennessee consumer confidence results also come in the context of a record-setting national holiday shopping season. A record 190 million U.S. consumers shopped from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday this year, an increase of 14% over last year's 165.8 million, according to the National Retail Federation.

Contact Mary Fortune at [email protected] or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.