Shoppers spend more as worries ease over budgets
CONSUMER confidence nudged higher last month as shoppers became slightly less worried about their household finances and more inclined to spend some money.
Shoppers remain concerned about the economic outlook, but there has been a gradual, if uneven, improvement in the mood of consumers in the past few months, the latest KBC/Economic and Social Research Institute consumer sentiment index reveals.
Although lower than the sharp upturn experienced in January, financial experts believe the mood of the recession-weary public is gradually improving.
But the survey found people remain cautious and held out little prospect of a spending spree.
The index rose to 61.9 in March from 59.4 in February.
The Live Register figures had improved in recent months but this was largely due to changes in entitlement eligibility as well as the effects of emigration and increased participation in education.
KBC's Austin Hughes said the findings show consumers remain concerned about job losses.
On a positive note, Mr Hughes said they may also hint at "a slight easing in the pace of layoffs".
But countering this were consumer concerns about work stoppages in the public sector and estimates of the likely cost of getting the banking sector back on its feet.
"Consumers are finding it difficult to decide whether they should be relieved that the worst is over or resigned that the future may not be that bright," he said.
Consumers felt their household finances had weakened in the past 12 months but they were slightly less pessimistic about the outlook for the coming year.
The likely reason for this was the fact that the Budget in December did not repeat the tax increases of the two previous budgets.
So, the sharp increase in income taxes felt in 2009 is not set to be repeated in 2010.
A second reason is the fact that the bulk of wage cut, apart from in the public sector, occurred last year.
"So, it may be that those consumers who still have private sector jobs are seeing some stabilisation in their after tax earnings after suffering a sharp drop in 2009," Mr Hughes added.