Outlook brightens for consumers

03 May 2012

NEW YORK: Consumer sentiment is improving across the world, although a majority of people still believe they are living in a recession.

New data covering January-March 2012 from Nielsen, the market research firm, suggest that overall consumer confidence grew in 38 of the 56 markets measured, when compared to figures from the last quarter of 2011.

Globally, both discretionary spending and saving rose across all product sectors, suggesting a general increase in incomes. In all, 33% of respondents said they would allocate extra cash to holidays, while 28% were planning to buy a new tech device.

Meanwhile, sentiment regarding economic conditions improved from the previous quarter. Although 57% said they believed they were living in recession, this total was down from the 64% who said the same during the last three months of 2011.

On this metric, Asia-Pacific saw the largest improvement, falling 53% to 44%. But economic gloom was most pronounced in North America, with the proportion seeing recession reaching 80%, down from the previous quarter's 86%.

Nation by nation, the sharpest single increase in general consumer sentiment came in India, which returned a positive index reading of 123 – where 100 indicates no change from the previous quarter. Confidence also strengthened in Indonesia, on 118, and China, on 110.

In the US, the world's largest economy, sentiment stood at 92 in the first quarter. While this reading is below the neutral level of 100, it is nevertheless a nine-point improvement from the fourth quarter of 2011, reflecting the stronger US GDP and labour market data of recent months.

But Europe, where macro-economic conditions have deteriorated, recorded the lowest index readings. Hungary (32) and Greece (37) were bottom of the rankings, while Italy scored 45.

Globally, the 56 markets measured recorded a reading of 94, still below the neutral score of 100 but higher than the 89 reading of Q4 2011.

Dr Venkatesh Bala, chief economist at The Cambridge Group, a consultancy owned by Nielsen, said: "Households around the globe experienced a brighter personal situation in terms of jobs and personal finances last quarter, especially in the US and in Asia.

"The survey evidence suggests that while consumers are neither as confident nor comfortable with the economy as they would like it to be, they are expressing a pent-up demand to spend as they did prior to the recession."

Nielsen's global consumer confidence figures are based on a survey of 28,000 web-connected consumers.

Data sourced from Nielsen; additional content by Warc staff