Indian, Chinese consumers most confident, U.S. sentiment up: Nielsen

Indian consumers continued to be the most optimistic in the world while confidence levels in the United States and China rose markedly in the last quarter of 2011, according to the Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions.

All three countries saw consumer confidence and optimism increasing during the last three months of 2011, compared to the previous three, but levels fell in most other countries.

India remained the world’s most optimistic market for the eighth consecutive quarter with a consumer confidence index of 122, Nielsen, the global market research agency, said.

A score above 100 indicates optimism among consumers and that they are more likely to spend, rather than hold on to their cash.

India’s two-year stint at the top of the ranking “reminds us of the inherent strength of the Indian economy, the savings mindset of the Indian consumer, and the positivity of consumer sentiment which has likely been helped by the recent cooling of inflationary pressure,” Justin Sargent, Managing Director of Nielsen India said.

India was followed by Indonesia and the Philippines at 117 in the survey based on 28,000 Internet consumers in 56 countries. Brazil was ranked the fifth, with a score of 112.

China was the sixth most optimistic country, with a score of 108. The index rose 4 points compared with the previous quarter, while it rose 1 point in India.

“In China, the easing of food inflation over the past five months has significantly driven food prices down and adjustments to macro-economic policies have re-energized growth, particularly through more loans, which partly resulted in the four point confidence climb to an index of 108,” Yan Xuan, President, Nielsen Greater China said.

However, these were the exceptions. There are more pessimistic consumers than optimistic ones in most countries in the world.

On a global basis, pessimists outnumbered optimists, resulting in an overall confidence level of just 89 points. Europeans, hit by the recent crisis, were the least confident, with a mean index score of just 71 points.

Europe was followed by North America (84) and Middle East/Africa (95). Even in the most optmistic regions of Asia Pacific and Latin America, the average index value was only 99 and 98 respectively, indicating that India, Brazil and China live among less optmistic neighbours.

The lack of confidence was also reflected in consumer responses to the question of whether they felt they were in a recession. Though most are not, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the consumers around the world believe they are in a recession.

The highest number of such consumers is in North America (86%), followed by Europe (74%) and Middle East/Africa (74%). Even in Asia Pacific, more than half (53%) of those polled felt they were experiencing recession. South America, at 47%, was the only place where less than half felt they were under recession.

Not surprisingly, European countries such as Hungary, Portugal (Index – 36) and Greece (41) were home to the most pessimistic consumers.

“Consumer confidence fell in 24 out of 27 European markets measured by Nielsen last quarter as the impact of the region’s debt crisis, currency woes and Italy’s political and economic uncertainty sent shockwaves throughout the region and into international financial markets,” said Dr. Venkatesh Bala, Chief Economist at The Cambridge Group, a part of Nielsen.

Less than one in four (23%) Europeans rated job prospects as good/excellent, down from 28 percent from a year ago. Germans, at 52%, were the most optimistic about jobs, only 10% in Spain felt reassured about their jobs, followed by 8% in Italy and just 4% in Greece.

The U.S. consumer confidence index, despite being still in ‘pessimistic’ territory, rose six points from 77 to 83.

Americans saw an improvement in their personal finances for the year ahead with nearly half (49%) saying their personal financial prospects looked good/excellent, up from 43 percent compared to the previous quarter — the primary driver behind the six-point consumer confidence index jump in the U.S.