Consumers, businesses still wary about the future

Another interest rate hike has flattened consumer mood, with the business community also cautious about whatā€™s to come.

The Westpac and Melbourne Institute monthly consumer sentiment survey has picked up a sharp fall in responses following the Reserve Bankā€™s decision to lift interest rates by another 25 basis in November.

The index fell by 2.6 per cent to 79.9 index points in November, down from 82 in October.

Westpac senior economist Matthew Hassan said the latest cash rate hike to 4.35 per cent renewed pressure on family finances.

ā€œPrevious months had been showing some tentative signs that sentiment was starting to lift out of the deep pessimism that has prevailed since the middle of last year,ā€ he said.

ā€œThat rally looks to have been cut short before it even really began.ā€

The fall was driven by a sharp deterioration in consumer expectations linked to family finances over the next year, which dropped 7.3 per cent.

The weekly ANZ and Roy Morgan index also dropped off in the wake of the rate hike, sinking 3.5 index points to 74.3.

Australian businesses also remain pessimistic, with National Australia Bankā€™s monthly survey recording a three point fall to negative two index points in October.

Conditions for running a business improved one point to 13 index points.

NAB chief economist Alan Oster said the generous gap between conditions and confidence had persisted over the course of a year.

ā€œBusinesses clearly remain cautious about the outlook for the economy despite the resilience we are seeing,ā€ Mr Oster said.

Yet forward-looking indicators, such as capacity utilisation and forward orders, both fell over the month.

The monthly survey also picked up a welcome slowdown in price and cost growth.

Mr Oster said inflation was expected to keep moderating but slowly, with resilient domestic demand so far keeping pressure on prices.

Consumer spending has been weakening, however, and the usually busy festive season is expected to be softer.

The Westpac-Melbourne Institute consumer confidence survey found nearly 40 per cent of respondents planned to spend less on gifts than last year.

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Poppy Johnston
(Australian Associated Press)

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