By Chris Nicholls

SYDNEY: Australians have brushed off the recent global sub-prime related crisis to record a 51 per cent increase in consumer confidence in the past 12 months, according to the latest MasterCard Worldwide Index of Consumer Confidence.

The survey stated the rise, which came after last year’s low levels, may stem from the effects of a new government, tight job market and a strong dollar.

“Australians are extremely optimistic about the future and are looking forward to the next six months. Fall-out from the US sub prime situation have not dampened the positive
Aussie spirit,” said Leigh Clapham, MasterCard Worldwide’s Australasian executive vice president.

The survey scores range between 0 and 100 and are based on responses in five categories – employment, economy, regular income, stock market and quality of life.

Any score above 50 indicate a level of optimism, while scores below 50 indicate a level of pessimism.

Australian consumers were more optimistic about all variables researched, with consumer sentiment towards employment up 54 per cent, increasing from 36.1 to 55.5, the economy up 71 per cent (36.0 to 61.4) and stock market up 10 per cent (57.1 to 62.8).

Consumers also became more optimistic about their regular income compared to one year ago, with a 17 per cent increase from a score of 71.7 to 83.7. Australians were far happier with their quality of life, with a 60.8 score, compared to 25.5 just a year ago.

“Overall, Australians are more optimistic about their immediate future, particularly when it comes to their quality of life. Last year, Australians were quite pessimistic about their quality of life and were reassessing the time they spent with family and friends and their work life balance. Australians are now putting greater importance on the non-financial
and non-work related factors when examining their happiness – and are feeling better for it,” Clapham said.

The latest survey was conducted from 8 to 29 October 2007 for all markets except Indonesia (which was conducted from October 18 to November 5 2007 because of Ramadan). It involved 5,411 consumers across 13 key Asia/Pacific markets.

Australia was not alone in its increased optimism. Ten out of the 13 countries surveyed registered an increase in confidence levels. Vietnam came out top, with 94.3, China was second with 85.5 and Singapore third with 83.6. Korea shows the largest increases in optimism, with its index score increasing 15.6 points to 64.1.

However, Clapham said weak domestic consumption in Japan was also reflected in the company’s index, slipping back into pessimistic territory after a bright first half of the year.