Small increase in consumer confidence revealed in latest Danske Bank index

Northern Ireland consumers are beginning to feel a bounce - but not flying high just yet
Gail Bell

NORTHERN Ireland consumers are walking with a renewed spring in their step - but it is more an amble than a dash, according to a new report published yesterday.

In the latest Danske Bank 'Consumer Confidence Index', "a small improvement" - a rise from 135 points in the fourth quarter of 2015, to 136 in the first quarter this year - was noted, although levels remained largely unchanged over the year.

In fact, the marginal improvement was driven by just one aspect of the survey - the financial position of households, with 20 per cent of respondents saying they were better off compared to a year ago.

Young people (25-34 years old) and full-time workers were the most optimistic, as a combination of low interest rates on mortgages, low energy prices and changes to the personal allowance for income tax all helped boost disposable incomes.

Other areas analysed - expectations for finances over the next 12 months, future spending and job security - either remained static or showed a decline.

Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan suggested a combination of "positive and negative forces" were largely to blame for confidence levels remaining steady on the treadmill.

"Confidence levels had fallen back at the end of last year, so it is good to see that this decline did not continue in the first part of 2016," she said.

"It should be noted however that the improvement in Q1 was pretty small and just brings the index back to the Q1 2015 level.

"A mixture of subdued global growth and Brexit uncertainty appear to be weighing on consumer sentiment right now, but these negativities are, to a certain extent, balanced out by lower inflation and rising real incomes.

"The combination of these positive and negative forces are keeping Northern Ireland’s consumer confidence levels more or less static."

The report, which also looked at regional trends, found people in Belfast and the south to have a more buoyant outlook than in the north west where confidence levels dipped by nine points.

With regard to expectations for spending, the survey made disappointing reading, falling by three points over the quarter and five points relative to last year.

Males were more cautious when it came to 'splashing the cash', but pensioners were the least likely to be spending more in the months ahead, while 25-34 year olds planned to spend the most.

Morale, as always, was impacted by job security, with the vast majority of people (74 per cent) not expecting any change in their employment situation, nine per cent thinking it would improve and 10 per cent predicting a deterioration in the months ahead.

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