Source Behavioral Research Center

PHOENIX — It’s not a big breakthrough, but Arizona consumers are feeling more confident about the current state of the economy.

New figures Wednesday from the Behavior Research Center show 29 percent of the 700 adult heads of Arizona households questioned last month think current business conditions are good. That’s the best figure in years.

Conversely, just 24 percent rate business conditions as bad. That’s a drop of 7 full points since the survey was conducted last fall.

And the percentage of those questioned who think jobs are hard to get is just 43 percent. While that’s hardly anything to crow about, the figures were 20 points higher two years ago.

The overall consumer confidence index slid a bit, however — from 71.3 last October to 69.6 now, driven down by ongoing fears of what is yet to come. Fully a quarter of those surveyed expect fewer jobs six months from now than currently, up 10 full points.

Economist Dennis Hoffman of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University said that’s a factor which cannot be ignored.

“If people feel jobs are going to be harder to get in a year, they hunker down,” he said. That can create a self-fulfilling prophecy: Less spending now weakens the economy down the road.

Hoffman said he’s not particularly worried, though.

“I’m really not seeing any signs that’s coming to bear,” he said. All indications are that consumers are continuing to spend, Hoffman said.

That is particularly borne out in vehicle sales. There have been double-digit percentage year-over-year increases.

And Hoffman said there’s one other factor. Gasoline prices normally spike in the spring, but that has not happened.

In fact, wholesale prices are in the neighborhood of $2.70 a gallon. Hoffman said that could translate to $3.20 at the pump, or even prices nearer to $3.

“That’ll pump people’s tires,” Hoffman quipped.

Jim Haynes, president of Behavior Research Center, said he’s not surprised that people appear a bit more optimistic, at least about the way things are right now.

“A lot of people are just saying it hasn’t gotten any worse in the last couple of months,” and that’s enough to make them feel better, he said.

Still, he said Arizona is far from where the confidence needs to be to sustain a healthy economy.

That 69.6 figure is computed on a baseline of 100, which is what Arizonans were feeling in 1985. It topped 100 before the economy went bust, bottoming out in the mid-40s, and has been bumping along in the 50s and 60s ever since.