PARIS: French consumer confidence has plunged to a two-decade low as the country's housing market cools and economists predict a slowdown in industrial demand during the second quarter.

The barometer of shoppers' morale in France, revealed by the national statistics office Insee, hit a record low for the third time in four months during April, dipping to minus 37, the lowest level since the measure began in 1987, from minus 36 in March.

Separate Insee data shows industrial firms are also worried about the outlook. They expect weakening demand with the possibility of further staff cuts.

There are also signs that the strengthening Euro has begun to hurt French export competitiveness.

Insee says: "In the first quarter of 2008, firms judged that there had been a marked deterioration in the competitiveness of French industry over all markets. The general outlook for exports is that they are in retreat."

  • Meantime, across the Atlantic, US shoppers also continue to feel gloomy about their economic prospects.  

    The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index stands at 62.3 for April, down from 65.9 in March. It is the lowest reading since March 2003, when it stood at 61.3, just before the invasion of Iraq.

    The proportion of consumers planning to go on holiday in the next six months fell to a 30-year low.

    Comments Conference Board research director Lynn Franco: "Consumers' outlook for the economy, the job market and their income prospects remains quite pessimistic. Or, in other words, the glass remains half empty."

    The downbeat consumer sentiment was accompanied by reports showing a continued slump in the US housing market and a sharp rise in the number of homes moving toward foreclosure in the first quarter.

  • Data sourced from International Herald Tribune and BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff