Confidence falls in Australia

12 April 2012

SYDNEY: Consumer confidence in Australia has declined significantly, as shoppers worry about rising costs and their personal financial situation.

The regular Westpac-Melbourne index of popular sentiment decreased from 96.1 points in March to 94.5 points in April, reported as a "mild surprise".

"The Index is now at its lowest level since August last year when consumers were very concerned about the global outlook and warnings from the Reserve Bank and most commentators," it said.

Setting aside the March 2008 to May 2009 period, when the looming financial crisis greatly impacted shopper sentiment, ratings had not fallen to such a nadir after the dot com crash of 2001.

The extent of the contraction was even more pronounced year on year, with totals plummeting from 105.3 points in April 2011, according to the study.

Turning to the broader state of the economy, participants lodged 89.5 points, improving from 88.8 points one month earlier, and just short of the long term average of 90.2 points.

Indeed, when assessing the financial climate for the coming five years, contributors posted 94.7 points, beating March's 93.3 points and trumping the historical norm of 90.7 points.

In a similarly positive shift, the scores for it being "time to buy a major household item" stood at 128.4 points, up from 123.1 points month on month.

Less favourably, projections for buying a dwelling and a vehicle dropped slightly compared with March, to 120.5 points and 116.1 points.

Upon describing current family finances versus 12 months ago, the panel returned 65.2 points, down from 76.2 points in March 2012, and well below the 90.1 point long term average.

When looking ahead for the next 12 months, figures came in at 94.9 points, off from 99 points month on month and a down from a norm of 108.8 points.

"Respondents' spending behaviour is likely to be considerably influenced by how they assess their own finances. As such, the very weak reads in April are of significant concern," the analysis stated.

Anxieties linked to job security, house prices, debt levels, petrol prices and rising utility bills were among the factors fuelling consumer unease in this area, the report added.

Data sourced from Westpac; additional content by Warc staff