The sun may have been shining of late across the UK, but there are increasing signs that economic sentiment is deteriorating, more especially amongst consumers. The EU’s economic sentiment index for the UK fell for the first time since November of last year and is now just a little below its long-run average.
The EU’s economic sentiment index is a composite indicator of confidence in that it captures confidence levels amongst both consumers and businesses. While overall sentiment actually increased in each month from December of last year through to this May, the decline in consumer confidence in the UK is now well established having fallen each month since March.
We might expect the falls in consumer confidence to be reflecting the prevailing economic environment and, in particular, the increasing number of people unemployed. However, since the sentiment survey contains forward-looking questions too, it may be that declining consumer sentiment reflects concerns amongst households about the impact of fiscal consolidation measures. These consumer expectations could be important in affecting consumer behaviour today. It could be very important to track consumer confidence in the coming months, especially in light of the measures announced in the Budget of 22 June (which occurred after June’s polling of consumers) and subsequent announcements too.
Interestingly, declining levels of consumer confidence in the UK had until June been offset by rising confidence amongst businesses. However, confidence across most sectors of industry deteriorated in June. In particular, confidence amongst manufacturers fell back very sharply. Bucking the trend were businesses in the service sector who reported feeling more confident than at any time since March 2008. However, given waning sentiment elsewhere, one would expect this to be relatively short-lived.
The profile of the average economic sentiment indicator across all 27 member states of the EU is broadly similar to that for the UK. It exhibits a sharp and continuous rise from the historic lows of the indicator recorded in March 2009, but fell back, although very slightly, in June. The improvement in sentiment amongst business has been especially marked. Sentiment too had been improving amongst consumers, but recent evidence points to consumer confidence easing, although not quite to the extent seen here in the UK.
There are, of course, some notable national trends in sentiment across EU countries. It will come as little surprise to know that in Greece the economic sentiment indicator has, in recent months, been at historic lows. If you are looking for countries where sentiment is above average, then perhaps try, amongst others, Austria, Denmark, Finland and Germany!
Euro economic sentiment near-static RTE (29/6/10)
Eurozone confidence unchanged Bloomberg Business Week, Associated Press (29/6/10)
Eurozone economic sentiment picks up Financial Times, Stanley Pignal (29/6/10)
FTSE loses more than 3% as Wall Street slides on confidence data Guardian (Market Forces Blog) (29/6/10)
How long can the housing market avoid a crash? Independent, Sean O’Grady (30/6/10) (Article stresses link between confidence and the housing market)
- Think about your confidence in your own financial situation. Draw up a list of those factors that might affect this confidence. How might this list change if you were thinking about the level of confidence across all consumers?
- Why might confidence amongst UK consumers have been falling well before that amongst businesses? Do you think such divergences can persist for any length of time?
- What factors do you think might be particularly important in affecting the sentiment amongst consumers and businesses in the weeks and months ahead?
- Imagine that you are given a choice of plotting a chart over time of the economic sentiment indicator and either the level of real GDP or the rate of growth in real GDP. Which plot would you go for and why?
- Perhaps the key question of all! Do you think economists can learn anything from tracking the patterns in economic sentiment?