Confidence returning: Miami-Dade County's taxable sales jump 5.9%
By Jacquelyn Weiner
Miami-Dade County taxable sales are showing year-over-year gains, signaling a return in consumer confidence, area economists say.
Total taxable sales in Miami-Dade were up 5.9% in March from March 2009, according to figures released Monday by the state legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
"The year-over-year gains in taxable sales are consistent with the view that we're starting to see the first signs of economic recovery in Florida," said Dr. Stephen Morrell, professor of economics and finance at the Andreas School of Business at Barry University.
Before February — a 5.1% increase in Miami-Dade taxable sales over February 2009 — totals had been negative for several consecutive months.
The first signs of descent came in December 2007.
Fiscal 2008 was the first year sales tax collections went negative, dropping 5.4% statewide and 2.6% in Miami-Dade.
The most recent numbers, however, indicate that the local economy is on the up.
Positives include a 15.4% year-over-year jump in March 2010 autos and accessories, a 6.6% increase in consumer durables and a 7.1% increase in consumer nondurables.
Consumer durables are big-ticket items like appliances and furniture and nondurables are smaller, more expendable purchases like clothing or paper products.
"The uptick in spending on consumer durables and nondurables suggests that consumers are not as focused on… not spending," Dr. Morrell said. "It's a good sign for the local economy."
But what is still lagging behind is building investment, down 6.8%, and business investment, down 1.8%.
Those areas are "key to propelling economic recovery," he said. "That's why I say these are just the first signs."
Looking ahead, "Total taxable sales in the county from November to March were on a positive trend," Dr. Robert Cruz, chief economist for Miami-Dade County, wrote in an e-mail. "We should expect that trend to continue to be reflected in the April and May numbers."
Economists keep a close eye on taxable sales because they "tend to track the national economy pretty closely," Dr. Morrell said.
Figures represent consumer spending on goods subject to state sales tax.
"Retail sales can also give an indication of how consumers are feeling about the future and whether they're regaining confidence with sufficient force," added local economist Manuel Lasaga, president of StratInfo.
Also key in tracking taxable sales is what type of retail sales are being affected, he said.
Where spending is being channeled can indicate "which industries are going to be winners," Dr. Lasaga said.
In addition to taxable sales, he said, following employment by industry can be a "leading indicator for more expansion."