Australia consumer sentiment falls to five-year low: survey

SYDNEY (Reuters) – A measure of Australian consumer sentiment slid to its lowest in more than five years this month as the mounting impact of the coronavirus shook confidence in the economic outlook, at least for the near term.

Wednesday’s survey showed the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank <WBC.AX> index of consumer sentiment fell 3.8% in March, more than reversing February’s 2.3% bounce.

The index was down 7.0% from a year earlier and, at 91.9, the lowest since December 2014.

“The worsening coronavirus outbreak and associated rout in financial markets have had a major impact on sentiment this month,” said Westpac chief economist Bill Evans.

“In fact, it is the second lowest level since the global financial crisis when the Index bottomed out at 79.”

The biggest impact was on the survey’s measure of the economic outlook for the next 12 months, which dived 12.8%. Yet the outlook for the next five years eased by only 1.3%.

The measure of family finances compared with a year ago actually rose 1.8%, while the outlook for the year ahead dipped 1.7%.

“The survey detail shows consumers are rightly concerned about the near term outlook for the economy but are less perturbed about their finances or the longer term outlook for the economy,” said Evans.

“That is consistent with the notion that virus-related disruptions will be large but temporary.”

The measure of whether it was a good time to buy a major household item dropped 4.3%, and remains well below its long run average.

(Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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