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Confidence remains fragile, board says PDF Print E-mail
Written by HGO Staff   

OTTAWA (26 March 2012) - The Conference Board of Canada's Index of Consumer Confidence improved for the third consecutive month in March, gaining 4.3 points to 79.5, driven almost solely by upticks in the major purchases category, which itself continues to benefit from low interest rates.

"Although the rise is welcome news," economist Todd Crawford wrote in the board's report, "a detailed look at the individual questions highlights the fact that consumer confidence remains fragile."

The index was set to 100 in 2002.

This month's telephone survey of some 2,000 Canadian adults was conducted between March 8 and 19. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.2%.

While the number of respondents saying their current finances improved this month - from 14.5% to 17.1% - the board notes the number saying the opposite also increased. It also pointed out that negative responses have outnumbered positive ones since 2008.

Compounding matters is consumers aren't seeing much improvement in their current financial situation over the next six months. While those expecting improvement remained unchanged at 24%, those expecting their situation will worsen was up, albeit by a marginal 0.4% to 17.3% -- much higher than this time last year and higher than during the second half of 2009 when the recovery began.

"Such a high proportion of consumers with a negative outlook for their finances presents a significant downside risk to consumer spending in Canada this year," Crawford noted.

Canadians also remain pessimistic about future job creation. The share saying more jobs are coming to their communities in six months' time fell 0.3% to just 19% while the number thinking there will be fewer jobs remains elevated at 22.5%. While lower than the February survey, that's still higher than at the same time last year.

"Encouraged at least in part by rock-bottom interest rates," Crawford noted 44.2% of respondents said that now is a good time to make a major purchase - whether a car, a house, furniture or appliances - a gain of 6.4 points from February.

There was also a 4.8 drop - to 44.7% - in the share saying now is a bad time.

"At only half-a-point difference between the two, this is the closest the responses to this question have been to a positive balance of opinion in the past year," Crawford said, adding, "Still, it remains to be seen whether these latest results represent the continuation of the trend that began in January, or just a temporary blip."

Regionally, five of the regions posted gains, led by British Columbia whose residents posted gains on all four questions. Also up for the month were Atlantic Canada, the Prairies and Ontario. The only region with a decreasing index in March was Quebec.

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