BRUSSELS: Consumer confidence is improving in a number of major European markets, as optimism about the state of the economy grows, and some shoppers in the region start to display an increased willingness to make major purchases.

In Italy, confidence levels rose to their highest point since the end of 2006 in September this year, according to a monthly poll undertaken by the ISAE.

The research institute's index score for the ninth month of 2009 reached 113.6 points, compared with 111.8 points in August.

Similarly, the total for popular perceptions of the economic climate jumped from 87.1 points to 89.6 points, and consumers' assessment of their own situation climbed from 125.0 points to 125.9 points.

Paolo Mameli an economist at Intesa Sanpaolo, the retail bank, said "this index continues to give us surprises on the upside", but he warned "consumer confidence data in Italy traditionally has very little impact on actual consumer spending."

INSEE, the French government's statistics agency, has also reported that its regular barometer of confidence in the country stood at –36 in September, up two points, although it said this constituted "a level clearly below the long-term average."

While the organisation found that the intention to make major purchases has remained largely static since May, at –28, anxiety over unemployment has also eased slightly, which may have positive knock-on benefits in this area.

Separately, INSEE stated that France enjoyed economic growth of 0.3% in the second quarter of this year, meaning, technically at least, the country is no longer in recession.

In Germany, Europe's biggest economy, the forward-looking consumer climate assessment produced by GfK registered a total of 4.3 points for October, up from 3.8 points the previous month.

"Consumer perceptions are evidently being increasingly shaped by the recognition that the 'worst' is behind them and they can now look to the future with greater optimism," the company said.

The readout on economic expectations also rose to 3.4 points in September, compared with –7.5 points in August, while income expectations almost doubled to 16 points, and the "likelihood to buy" grew from 31.1 points to 36.5 points.

Earlier this week, the Leading Economic Index for the Euro Area, produced by the Conference Board – and which includes a range of factors like economic sentiment and levels of manufacturing – ticked upwards by 1.8% in August, to 99.1 points, although economic activity fell by 0.1% during the month.

Data sourced from AFP/Reuters/Wall Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff