16 Dec 2013

Consumer confidence highest in four years

7:25 pm on 16 December 2013

Consumer confidence hit its highest level in more than four years in the third quarter, while activity in the services sector remains robust.

Westpac-McDermott Miller's quarterly consumer confidence index is at a four-year high.

The index has surged to 120.1 this month, a big jump from 115.4 in September.

A reading of more than 100 means surveyed consumers are optimistic, while a reading under that figure shows pessimism.

Consumers are also more upbeat about their own finances.

But respondents remain cautious about their willingness to spend on a major household item, or a cash windfall. Westpac says rising house prices, lending restrictions and future interest rate rises may be behind the cautious response.

Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens says retailers, already under strain, should look at the results with caution.

But he says job prospects are better than they were six months ago which is driving slightly better confidence.

Meanwhile, the BNZ/Business New Zealand monthly index found rising consumer confidence is underlying expanding activity in the services sector, along with the rebuilding of Christchurch, the pre-Christmas rush, and finer weather.

With manufacturing activity also expanding, BNZ economists' says it bodes well for unemployment to fall below 6% very soon.