Consumer sentiment is up across the region of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, according to Spring 2015 Arvest Consumer Sentiment Survey released Tuesday.

Consumer sentiment is up across the region of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, according to Spring 2015 Arvest Consumer Sentiment Survey released Tuesday.


Arkansans were more optimistic in March than in the fall about their personal financial situation.


In Oklahoma, Russell Evans, director of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research & Policy Institute at Oklahoma City University, said that while consumer expectations are up, there is some concern over future economic conditions.


"The anxiety is understandable as weakness in the oil and natural gas sector will test the extent to which the state’s economy has diversified," Evans said in a news release.


About 56 percent of Arkansans surveyed believe the next six months will be a good time to purchase major household items like furniture, televisions and refrigerators. That’s up from the 46 percent who thought so in October.


By comparison, 59 percent of the entire region believes the next six months will be a good time to buy. That’s an increase of 18 percent. Over half, 53 percent, of those surveyed in Oklahoma and Missouri expect their personal financial situation to stay the same, while a third, 33 percent, expect it to improve.


Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas and lead economist for the survey, said people expect the economy to hold a steady course or even get better in the next year.


"More Arkansas consumers are expecting to maintain or improve their personal financial situations within the year," Deck said in a news release. "This uptick in outlook is consistent with growth in the labor force and declines in unemployment throughout the state. Arkansans are a bit more cautious about making optimistic predictions for the overall economy, but are still more positive than in previous surveys."


According to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, the state’s unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in March. It was also 5.6 percent in February. The national rate in March was 5.5 percent. The state’s March 2014 unemployment rate was 6.4 percent. DWS said 1.3 million Arkansas were employed in March and 74,500 were unemployed.


Buying and business conditions


The Arvest survey phase includes a study of consumers’ outlooks on personal finances, buying conditions over the next six months, and business conditions over the next year and the next five years.


According to the survey conducted in March, 30 percent of Arkansas consumers expect their personal financial situation to improve over the next 12 months. That’s up four percent since the fall survey. Meanwhile, 55 percent expect it to remain the same over the next 12 months. That’s up slightly from 54 percent in October.


Arvest Marketing Director Jason Kincy said that as bankers, they are working to assist many customers with consumer loans for major purchases, such as cars and ATVs, and with strategic savings plans. Arvest has also seen popularity with the home equity line of credit. With home values across the U.S. trending upward earlier this year, homeowners were s seizing the opportunity to take out loans on their home’s equity for home improvements.


When it comes to expected business conditions, Arkansans felt slightly better this spring than they did in the fall. While 29 percent expected good times for businesses over the next year, 39 percent expected the same over the next five years. That compares to 23 percent (one year) and 32 percent (five years) in October.


Expectations for the region as a whole were much higher with 34 percent of regional respondents expecting good times for businesses over the next year, and 42 percent expecting good times over the next five years. Those percentages are up 36 percent and 16.7 percent, respectively, from October.


Conditions/expectations sub-index


The second-phase of survey results in March also included a Current Conditions Sub-Index and a Consumer Expectations Sub-Index, which follows the model of the national Thomson/Reuters Michigan Surveys of Consumers.


"These sub-indexes are meaningful in comparison to national indexes or to previous values of Arvest Consumer Sentiment indexes," the release states.


The Current Conditions Sub-Index for Arkansas in March is 89.6, up from October’s 76.3, and the regional index is 92.2.


Arkansas’ Consumer Expectations Sub-Index in March is 72.4, up from October’s 62.9, and the regional index is 77.4.


The Arvest Consumer Sentiment Survey is conducted by UA’s Center for Business and Economic Research, with the University of Oklahoma’s Public Opinion Learning Laboratory conducting 1,200 random phone surveys.


"Arvest Bank’s sponsorship of this survey is due to its desire to provide beneficial data for its customers and communities," the release adds. "The data provides a reading of how consumers are feeling about the economy in the states where the bank operates. Additionally, with future results, consumers, as well as the business community, will be able to see how sentiment is trending."


The CBER evaluates the data for the state of Arkansas; the Bureau of Economic Research at Missouri State University provides state analysis of the Missouri data. The Steven C. Agee Economic Research & Policy Institute, Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University, evaluates the data for Oklahoma.