By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
Huntington Bank’s recent survey shows a general positive trend in the way consumers view the economy.
Huntington recently released its second Midwest Economic Index survey, which offers data related to how consumers are feeling and thinking about the economy based on different categories of questions.
George Mokrzan, Huntington Bank’s director of economics, said the survey provides valuable information to help people plan in the areas where the company has a presence, including West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and Indianapolis, Ind. Also, the results can assist businesses in their approaches to consumers.
“And we think it gives consumers a sense of potential bright spots in the economy such as auto and real estate,” William Eiler, vice president of regional public relations for Huntington, added. “If they work in those industries, and many in our footprint do, we are giving them a good sense of the future economic realities they are facing.”
He said Huntington strives to give its customers information that will help their quality of life. The company isn’t only focused on selling products and services, but also cares for the people in its communities and wants to share beneficial knowledge.
The Midwest Economic Index survey has been a big hit with consumers so far, Eiler said.
Mokrzan said the survey is pretty standard, using random samples and a fairly robust statistical process to obtain significant and reliable results. Ebiquity conducted the survey online from Oct. 23 through 31, and 2,169 adults in Huntington’s territory participated.
With the index now in its second year, Huntington is able to offer comparisons to last year’s findings, he said.
Mokrzan explained that West Virginia is following the overall trend across Huntington’s territory of improvement in consumer attitudes between 2012 and 2013. More people in the region are feeling positive and expecting the economy to grow more in the coming year than in 2013, Mokrzan said.
“They also are generally feeling better that their economy is better this year than it was last year,” he said. “There’s a great proportion of people who feel that the economy has improved.”
Forty-six percent of survey participants responded in this way, while 39 percent did in the 2012 index.
“It’s not a real abrupt change from last year, but it’s kind of the continual, gradual improvement in the consumer that we’ve in general seen,” Mokrzan said. “Consumer finances have generally improved in the last year. They’ve been able to pay down debt. They’ve been able to acquire financial assets. Employment has grown.”
He said real estate is one particular area that has been strong. An increased number of consumers — a total of 58 percent, which is up 12 percent from the 2012 survey — believe that the real estate market has gotten better compared to a year ago, which is a common thread among all the regions where Huntington Bank does business.
As a whole, consumers’ expectation for holiday spending this season decreased slightly from last year, but there wasn’t a huge difference, with the average number going from $959 to $940, Mokrzan said.
However, West Virginia seems to be the exception in Huntington’s region in terms of holiday spending, he said.
“West Virginia actually shows that consumers are planning to spend more for this holiday,” Mokrzan said.
In the state, the budget for the holiday season is about $1,303, compared to the $940 mean average for all of Huntington’s territories. The planned spending in West Virginia has gone up compared to last year, when it was $987, while the trend is flat overall for the total average of the states where Huntington does business, he said.
While 61 percent of the participating consumers within the five regions stated they would mostly be shopping at big box stores over the holiday, 20 percent said they planned to mainly got to locally owned small businesses.
“Consumers, they are a bit price conscious; that is coming out in a lot of these questions,” Mokrzan said. “It looks like they certainly intend on buying local if they can.”
The survey found that for the holidays as well as for vacations in general, consumers are largely utilizing their current income, he said.
“I think that consumers are still being prudent in a sense that they’re spending out of their cash budgets,” Mokrzan said.
About 46 percent of respondents said they intended to rely on their savings for holiday spending, while 39 percent noted their plans to make purchases via credit card.
He pointed out that West Virginia had some other unique aspects compared to the overall findings.
“In the case of West Virginia, there’s a little bit greater propensity to spend more on the holidays and a little bit less on vacation,” Mokrzan said. “The budget’s a little shifted toward the holiday in comparison to other areas. However, West Virginians do plan overall, according to the survey, to increase spending on home improvements actually by an above-average amount relative to the actual total for the region.”
The survey shows that the mean average for expected home improvement costs is $6,660 in West Virginia, compared to $5,173 last year. As for the entire region, the mean average just went up slightly from $5,216 in 2012 to $5,350 in 2013.
Email Jessica Borders at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.