Rate cuts do little to buoy sentiment
Australians are feeling more upbeat about the state of the economy, but concerns about the family budget are taking the shine off consumer sentiment.
The Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment for January, released on Wednesday, rose 0.6 points to 100.6 points, putting it in positive territory, but still below in long-term average of 101.5. A reading above 100 indicates optimists outnumber pessimists among respondents.
National Australia Bank senior economist David De Garis said the survey results were positive, given that the index spent most of 2012 below 100, but the Reserve Bank of Australia might have expected a better result following December’s interest rate cut.
‘‘There might be a bit of mild disappointment that there wasn’t any bounce at all from the December rate cut, but clinically it is at an OK level,’’ he said.
The RBA cut the cash rate a quarter of a percentage point at its December board meeting to three per cent, and has delivered 1.75 percentage points in cuts since November 2011.
The survey showed respondents were more optimistic about the state of the economy, with the sub-index economic conditions over the next 12 months up 2.7 per cent.
However, the sub-index measuring family finances compared to a year ago fell 8.6 per cent in January, while the index measuring family finances over the next 12 months fell 1.2 per cent.
St George chief economist Hans Kunnen said recent interest rate cuts may have actually had a negative impact on many households.
‘‘Lower interest rates among some sectors haven’t helped,’’ he said. ‘‘We have people who rely on term deposits and that could be what has swung people into being not as well off as they thought.’’
The survey came as a Commonwealth Bank analysis of credit card spending from October to early January suggested consumers had been reluctant to spend big over the Christmas period.
CBA said the value of retail transactions on its own credit cards was only 4.2 per cent higher than a year ago, which it said was a weak result considering the figure had not been adjusted for inflation.