Global Consumer Sentiment as an Economic Indicator

As we keep hearing from various economists, Malta’s economy is a very open one and thus hugely dependent on other economies it trades with. Therefore it would pay us all to watch the direction of other international economies.

Consumer Sentiment is a good indicator of the future direction of an economy. Hence, why keeping a watchful eye on the global consumer sentiment is so important as this is a good indicator of the performance of international economies that have a direct impact on the performance of the economy in Malta.

If one where to summarise all the research being presently done on Global Consumer sentiment, the following is what emerges.

Despite pockets of reopening, net consumer optimism has decreased, and most consumers continue to expect a long-lasting impact from COVID-19. Net optimism has declined in most countries in recent weeks. China and India remain the most optimistic, while Japan remains the least, and many countries in Europe have more consumers who are pessimistic about an economic recovery than are optimistic. Most consumers globally still expect COVID-19 to impact their routines for a long time to come, with 70 percent of consumers in hard-hit nations anticipating adjustments to their routines for four months or more. In most countries, consumers expect their finances to recover more quickly, though more than half of consumers in most countries still believe their finances will be impacted for four months or more.

As incomes have declined, consumers are spending on essentials and not discretionary categories, with some exceptions in South Korea and China. Consumers globally continue to see the impact of COVID-19 on their incomes, with those in Brazil, South Africa, and India most impacted. As a result, overall spending intent is down across two-thirds of countries surveyed, and most categories across countries still show a net intent to reduce spending – though more optimistic countries tend to project higher spending intent. Spending on groceries and at-home entertainment continues to show positive momentum, as it has since we first started measuring in mid-March. Today, consumers in more countries intend to increase spending on other basic categories, such as household supplies and personal care, as well. Chinese and South Korean consumers intend to spend more on select other categories: food takeout and delivery, snacks, skin care, non-food baby products, fitness and wellness, and gasoline. While overall spending intent on most discretionary categories remains negative, there is reduced pessimism about future spending on categories such as restaurants, restaurant delivery, apparel, footwear, and consumer electronics today versus in mid-March. Spending intent is close to neutral in China across most non-travel related categories.

Consumers are shifting to online and digital solutions as well as reduced-contact channels to get goods and services. Intent to shop more online across categories is positive in several countries, including the US, India, South Korea, and Japan. In Europe and Latin America, intent to shop more online is lower. This lower penetration likely stems from lower reach given limited infrastructure, which has limited the ability of consumers to shift their spending in a large-scale way. Across all countries measured, consumers are adopting and intensifying digital and reduced-contact ways of accessing products and services. As we look more granularly in the US, this digital trend is magnified for Gen Z and millennials and for higher-income consumers.

Consumers’ stated intent to continue these behaviors varies across category. Some categories are gaining many new customers who intend to stick with the behaviour post-COVID-19, likw online fitness. In contrast, consumers demonstrate less of an appetite to continue with other growing categories, like professional videoconferencing, and remote learning for children.

Even though many countries have lifted stay-at-home restrictions, most consumers still feel the pull toward a “homebody economy.” Most consumers across countries still feel they are not back to “regular” out-of-home activities. However, with restrictions lifting in pockets around the globe, consumers are increasingly venturing outside their homes for select categories of activities. Most commonly, consumers plan to shop, with nearly all consumers planning to shop for necessities out-of-home in the next two weeks, and roughly half planning to shop for non-necessities. In Europe and China, over 50 percent plan to leave home to get together with family. A large minority of consumers intends to dine at a restaurant or bar, get together with friends, go to a hair or nail salon, or work outside the home across most countries. However, intent to travel, shop at malls, or attend crowded indoor events remains low across countries.

Consumers want extra reassurance to resume day-to-day activities outside their homes. In order to feel comfortable engaging with out-of-home activities, most consumers are waiting for milestones beyond the lifting of governmental restrictions. Many consumers want the endorsement of medical authorities and the implementation of visible safety measures from stores, restaurants, and other indoor spaces. Others (around ten to 15 percent across most countries) are waiting for a vaccine before they feel comfortable going back to routines outside the home. Consumers also want to see an ongoing emphasis on cleaning and safety. As consumers determine where to shop in-store, they are prioritising cleaning and sanitisation and are looking for the usage of masks and barriers.

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