Tag: business confidence

The economic sentiment indicator for April 2010 published by the European Commission continues to show confidence in the UK economy rising. The UK experience mirrors that across the European Union. The increase in the level of confidence in the UK economy seen in April, as measured by responses to questions posed to businesses and consumers, was the fifth consecutive monthly rise in sentiment.

There is, however, something of a divergence between the moods of UK businesses and consumers. Consumer confidence fell very slightly in April, which follows on from a small fall in March. These falls might reflect some uncertainty amongst consumers induced by the UK general election and, in particular, the extent of future fiscal tightening. In contrast, general business confidence rose in April, especially in the construction and manufacturing sectors.

Nonetheless, confidence is considerably higher across both consumers and businesses than it was a year ago. The increase has been of such magnitude that the economic sentiment indicator has now been above its long-run average for two months in a row. We would perhaps be rather naïve to expect this trend to continue, not least because of the financial rebuilding that households, banks, business and, of course, government will be pursuing. Therefore, it will be fascinating to see how enduring the current levels of confidence are and whether the slight weakening in sentiment amongst UK consumers is a sign of things to come.


Euro-zone economic sentiment rises in April MarketWatch, William Watts (29/4/10)
EU economic, business sentiment indicators ‘improving’ – poll Sofia Echo, Clive Leviev-Sawyer (29/4/10)
Euro economic sentiment up in April France24, AFP (29/4/10)


Business and Consumer Surveys The Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs, European Commission
Consumer Confidence Nationwide Building Society


  1. Why might the trends in business and consumer confidence be diverging?
  2. What do you think economists can learn from tracking the patterns in economic sentiment?
  3. What factors do you think are likely to impact on the sentiment amongst consumers and businesses in the months ahead?

So how are you feeling? Is now a good time to shop? Or, is it perhaps time to put money aside for that rainy day? Well, these types of questions capture the essence of what we might label as ‘sentiment’ or ‘confidence’. Polling organisations each month undertake surveys to try to measure sentiment amongst consumers and businesses. In doing so, they ask questions relating to, amongst other things, perceptions as to the current and future states of the economy, the labour market and finances. The responses to these individual questions are then combined to give an overall indicator which, it is then hoped, can be used to track sentiment over time. Two widely reported surveys of sentiment are the EU economic sentiment indicator and the Nationwide Building Society consumer confidence indicator.

The Nationwide’s indicator focuses solely on households. Its sentiment figure for March suggests that the gains in confidence amongst households enjoyed in the first couple of months of this year have been lost. In other words, the decline in March was significant enough not only to wipe out the effect of the typical ‘January bounce’ seen in most measures of sentiment but also the further rise that occurred in February. Nonetheless, consumer sentiment remains above the levels seen through much of 2008 and 2009 amidst the economic downturn.

The European Union’s economic sentiment index measures sentiment across both households and firms, although separate indicators are available for households and for different sectors of industry. Figures are also available for each individual EU country as well as across the EU. 2009 saw a record low score in the UK for the economic sentiment index – a series which goes back to 1985. But in March 2010 the sentiment index was, perhaps surprisingly, above its long-term average. Interestingly, this reflects further strengthening in sentiment amongst businesses, while sentiment amongst consumers fell slightly in March after recent gains.

So what should we read into these sentiment indices? Well, firstly, consider the patterns in the sentiment scores. The sentiment indices rose markedly in the second half of last year and into the beginning of this year, although sentiment amongst households may have now weakened while continuing to rise amongst firms. Now, secondly, consider these patterns alongside evidence which shows that economic sentiment indices tend to track the direction of economic growth. So last year, the rise in both the EU and Nationwide sentiment indices was indeed mirrored by improvements in the rate of economic growth with initially smaller contractions followed by positive growth in the final quarter.

One of the advantages of these sentiment measures is their timeliness. The first provisional estimate of growth in Q1 2010 is not available until the end of this month and, of course, is then subject to revision. But, if we reflect on the sentiment measures, the fact that sentiment appears no weaker across the first quarter of this year as a whole and, when measured across both households and firms, may actually be higher, indicates that the growth number for the first quarter of this year may not be too different from the 0.4% growth recorded in Q4 2009. Stay cheerful!


Consumer confidence has sharpest fall this recession The Times, Grainne Gilmore (15/4/10)
U.K. consumer confidence fell in March The Wall Street Journal, Paul Hannon (15/4/10)
Election drives down consumer confidence Sky News, Adam Arnold (15/4/10) )
Consumer morale suffers biggest fall since July 2008 Reuters UK (15/4/10)


Business and Consumer Surveys The Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs, European Commission
Consumer Confidence Nationwide Building Society


  1. What factors do you think might influence sentiment or confidence amongst households?
  2. What factors might affect sentiment or confidence amongst businesses?
  3. In what ways do you think sentiment and economic activity might be connected?
  4. Some commentators are arguing that the general election might be impacting on consumer confidence. Why do you think this might be the case?
  5. If you were going to assess the economic sentiment of consumers or businesses, what sorts of questions do you think you might ask?

The OECD published its latest interim assessment of the world economy on April 7. This showed a world gradually bouncing back from recession, with growing GDP (albeit at variable speeds in different countries), rising industrial production, increasing business confidence, a stabilising of financial markets, an easing of credit conditions and yet continuing low inflation.

The UK is forecast to have an annualised rate of growth of GDP in quarter 2 of 3.1%. This is the second highest of the G7 countries, behind only Canada. This would seem like good news – an economic spring for the UK.

Despite continuing growth in the OECD countries, in most of them recovery is fragile. The OECD thus recommends caution in removing the stimulus measures adopted in most countries and hence caution in embarking on measures to cut public-sector deficits. As the report states:

Despite some encouraging signs on activity, the fragility of the recovery, a frail labour market and possible headwinds coming from financial markets underscore the need for caution in the removal of policy support. Central banks have already begun to rein in the exceptional liquidity stimulus injected during the recession. Further action in this area will need to be guided by financial conditions. The normalisation of policy interest rates should be carried out at a pace that will be contingent on the strength of the recovery in individual countries and the outlook for inflation beyond the near-term projection horizon. As for fiscal policy, the sharp increase in government indebtedness in the OECD area during the downturn calls for ambitious, clearly communicated medium-term consolidation programmes in many countries. Consolidation should start in 2011, or earlier where needed, and progress gradually so as not to undermine the incipient recovery.

The following webcast from the OECD presents the report.

Interim Assessment OECD, Pier Carlo Padoan, OECD Chief Economist (7/4/10)

Portal to report and webcast OECD
What is the economic outlook for OECD countries? An interim assessment OECD, Pier Carlo Padoan (7/4/10)

Economy set to speed up and beat UK’s rivals, says OECD Independent, Sean O’Grady (8/4/10)
Economy poised for rapid expansion Financial Times, Norma Cohen and Daniel Pimlot (8/4/10)
OECD sees slower growth in US, Europe, Japan Sydney Morning Herald (8/4/10)
UK business confidence ‘hits four-year high’ BBC News (12/4/10)
British companies confident of recovery but need investment, BDO warns Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (12/4/10)


  1. What are the main findings in the report?
  2. What are the policy implications of the findings?
  3. What are the implications of developments in financial markets? What are the possible ‘headwinds’?
  4. What factors could threaten the recovery of the UK economy?

Both business and consumer confidence are affected by the state of the economy. A recession, or even a slowdown in the economy, will make people worried for their jobs and future incomes and hence cut back on spending and either save more or reduce their debts. Similarly firms are likely to cut back on investment if they are pessimistic about the future. But both consumer demand and investment are components of aggregate demand. A cut in aggregate demand will drive the economy further into recession and cause even greater pessimism. In other words, there is a feedback loop. Recession causes pessimism and hence a fall in aggregate demand, which, in turn, worsens the recession.

A similar process of feedback occurs in times of optimism. If the economy recovers, or is thought to be about to do so, the resulting optimism will cause people and firms to spend more. This rise in aggregate demand will help the process of recovery (see Accelerating the recession and Animal Spirits).

The following article by Robert Shiller, co-author of Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism, looks at the swing from pessimism to optimism over the past few months.

An Echo Chamber of Boom and Bust: Robert Schiller New York Times (29/8/09)
Efficient Market Hypothesis: True “Villain” of the Financial Crisis? The Market Oracle (26/8/09)

Monthly confidence indicators for the EU can be found at:
Business and Consumer Surveys: Time Series European Commission Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs. (Each of the ‘en’ cells links to a zipped Excel file.)


  1. Explain why “confidence has rebounded so quickly in so many places” in recent weeks.
  2. Is Robert Shiller’s explanation of feedback loops consistent with the accelerator theory?
  3. In what circumstances do business and consumer psychology result in destabilising speculation and what causes turning points in the process? Why may such turning points be difficult to predict?
  4. Examine the monthly Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI) for the UK from the ‘Business and Consumer Surveys: Time Series’ link above. You will need to refer to the final column in the Excel ESI Monthly worksheet (Column GV). Chart the movements in this indicator over the past three years. Also chart the quarterly growth in UK GDP over the same time period. You can find data from Economic and Labour Market Review (ONS), Data tables, Table 1.01, Column YBEZ. Is ESI a leading or a lagging indicator of GDP?
  5. What implications does Shiller’s analysis have for the management of the economy?
  6. Why may stock market movements not be a ‘random walk’?