KUALA LUMPUR: Consumer confidence has fallen faster in Malaysia than anywhere else in the region during the past three months a new survey has revealed.

The latest Global Survey on Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions from the researcher Nielsen, polled some 30,000 online respondents in 60 countries. This showed that during the first quarter of 2014 the consumer confidence index in Malaysia stood at 92, a drop of six index points from the previous quarter and two points below the global average of 94.

With a baseline of 100 points and movement above and below that indicating the degree of optimism or pessimism, Malaysian consumers were clearly becoming increasingly gloomy.

Luca Griseri, head of Nielsen's financial services in Singapore and Malaysia, told The Star that the negative sentiment was driven primarily by rising fuel and grocery prices due to the reduction in government subsidies.

Some 39% of Malaysians cited the economy as their main worry, while 21% cited food prices and 20% job security.

Other areas that were leading to increased unease included health - up 5 percentage points (pp) to 16%, and rising utility bills (up 3 pp to 14%).

Because of this economic unease almost two thirds (64%) were saving their spare cash after covering essential living expenses and cutting back on non-essentials such as home improvement (down 4pp to 14%) and out of home entertainment (down 2pp to 16%). But, Griseri noted, they were still willing to spend on holidays.

All other countries in Southeast Asia were more optimistic, with Indonesia leading the way on a score of 124, followed by the Philippines on 116, Thailand on 108 and then Singapore and Vietnam, each on 99.

Referring to the situation in Thailand, Griseri observed that the country's "political challenges have had hardly any effect on Thai consumers, who remain generally optimistic about their financial situation".

Data sourced from The Star; additional content by Warc staff