Johannesburg - Consumer confidence in the country's economic prospects improved marginally to -6 index points during the first quarter of 2014.
This was up from -7 points in the fourth quarter of last year, and only slightly higher than the decade low of -8 points in the third quarter of 2013.
This was revealed in the FNB/BER Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) released on Wednesday.
In the second quarter of 2008, the CCI also recorded -6. At that time Eskom was resorting to countrywide power cuts.
“Given the 50 basis point hike in the prime interest rate at the end of January, coupled with tight credit standards, especially for unsecured credit, it is not surprising that an even larger majority of consumers are now postponing their durable goods purchases,” FNB chief economist Sizwe Nxedlana said.
According to the index, consumers' rating of the outlook for the national economy improved slightly, but their view of the appropriateness of the present time to buy durable goods deteriorated to the lowest level since the 2009 recession, to -17 points.
Consumers' rating of their financial prospects did not change from the previous quarter, remaining at eight index points.
Those with high incomes remained far more optimistic about their household finances, in contrast to the sentiments of low income consumers.
“Combined with a slowdown in household credit extension and real disposable income growth, low consumer confidence levels signal that the growth in consumer spending will remain soft during the first half of 2014.”
In the first quarter of this year, the economic outlook sub-index of the CCI improved from -15 to -9 index points, suggesting that, while consumers remained pessimistic about South Africa's economic prospects, a smaller percentage of consumers expected the economic situation to worsen over the next 12 months.
Nxedlana said: “Although domestic demand will likely remain under pressure in the face of rising inflation and interest rates and a slowdown in household income and credit growth, a gradual recovery in net exports should bolster real GDP growth during 2014.
“The upturn in world economic growth, coupled with a weak rand exchange rate, is boosting South Africa's export performance, while weaker domestic demand and rising import prices should, in turn, curtail import volumes.”
The ongoing Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union's strike in the platinum sector and concerns about potential further power cuts posed significant risks to domestic economic growth.
There was, however, room for cautious optimism.
“The fact that consumer confidence did not slump further during the first quarter of 2014 in the face of this barrage of negative factors suggests that there may yet be some resilience in the consumer sector, particularly among high income households,” Nxedlana said.
“While consumer confidence levels remain very low and consumer spending is expected to continue to grow at a pedestrian pace in 2014, a further dramatic deterioration in household expenditure is not expected.” - Sapa