Confidence up, but pessimists continue to outnumber optimists: Conference Board

The Conference Board of Canada’s consumer confidence index report for January is a good news/bad news story.

The good news is that consumer confidence is up four points from December’s figure, which had been the index’s lowest level in more than two years.

The bad news is that even with that four-point gain, at 73.9 the index is still 14.3 points below its reading in January 2013, and the people who see the glass as half-empty are in the majority.

“Despite a respectable improvement this month, the survey results continue to indicate that a sizable percentage of Canadians are struggling with their finances,” the board said in its report. “When asked if they were financially better or worse off than six months ago, 16 per cent of respondents answered ‘better’ — an increase of 0.8 percentage points from December. However … negative responses continue to outnumber positive ones, a situation that has now persisted for more than three years.”

The survey asks a random sampling of Canadians the same four questions each month to gauge their feelings about the current and future state of their household’s finances, the short-term employment outlook, and whether they think now is a good time to make a major purchase, such as a car, a house or a major appliance.

While the number expecting there will be more jobs in six months’ time was unchanged from December, and the number expecting fewer jobs actually dropped 1.1 points in January, negative responses to this question have been outnumbering the positive since last summer, when “the latest wave of economic uncertainty struck,” the board said.

The number of respondents who think now’s a good time to lay out big bucks rose 3.4 points to 37.4%, and the number who think it’s a bad time dropped 4.2 points to 50.1%, but again, the pessimists outnumber the optimists, and have for the past 20 months, says the board, “a trend that could indicate a slowdown in consumer spending is on its way.”

Regionally, confidence was on the rebound in most regions following a broad-based drop last month, led by Ontario and followed by the Prairies, Atlantic Canada and British Columbia. Quebec was the sole region to see a decline in confidence in January. Its index is at its lowest level since the middle of the recession in 2009, the board says.

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