Global consumer confidence improves, noticeably in US, Japan

LONDON (REUTERS) - Global consumer confidence rose in the first quarter, with a marked increase in sentiment in the United States, Japan and northern Europe, a survey showed on Wednesday.

Indonesia overtook India as the most optimistic consumer market globally, according to the survey by global information and insights company Nielsen. Japan, where the central bank has aggressively boosted economic stimulus, reported its highest consumer confidence score since 2006, although the public was still very cautious about the outlook.

Consumers in Europe's south, where austerity imposed to tackle the region's debt crisis has helped push unemployment to record levels, remained among the most pessimistic.

Confidence improved in 60 per cent of markets globally, compared with only 33 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year. By region, consumers in North America were most upbeat about their spending intentions for the next 12 months, with 42 per cent of respondents there saying they planned to spend on discretionary items during the year. That was much higher than the North American average of 33 per cent over the past three years and compared with 39 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region.

Canadians were in the top 10 most optimistic consumers in the latest poll, but Nielsen was cautious about the outlook for consumers in the US.

"Americans are in phase two of the economic recovery. However, for many, it just doesn't feel that way," said Nielsen's senior vice-president, Global Consumer Insights, James Russo. "Three years of strong gains in the equity market are balanced by five years of declining median household incomes, which highlights the economic divide and precarious state of the recovery."

The Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Index rose 2 points in the first quarter to 93, after dipping 1 point in the previous quarter. A reading below 100 signals consumers are pessimistic about the outlook.

Portugal was the most pessimistic market, followed by Greece, although Greece's score improved from a quarter before.