Press Room

Consumer Confidence: Asia Pacific and Middle East/Africa Reach Highest Levels on Record – Southern & Eastern Europe Dip to New Lows

INCREASING FOOD PRICES TRUMP THE ECONOMY AS BIGGEST GLOBAL CONCERN

RISING FUEL/UTILITY PRICES IMPACT SPENDING INTENTIONS

Key Findings
Over Half of Cash-Strapped Global Online Consumers Continue to Cut Back On:
Clothing (57%)
Out-of-Home Entertainment (55%)
Gas and Electricity (51%)

CONTACT: Marisa Grimes, 646-654-5759

NEW YORK – May 22, 2011 – Global online consumer confidence rose two points in the first quarter of this year to an index of 92 driven by record confidence gains in the Middle East/Africa following social and political unrest in the region and strong-performing Asia Pacific economies, according to an online study released today by The Nielsen Company (NYSE:NLSN). Asia Pacific’s* consumer confidence index jumped 10 points from last quarter to reach 107 – the highest score on record and Middle East/Africa surged 17 points to a new high of 106.

The Nielsen Global Online Consumer Confidence Survey tracks consumer confidence, major concerns and spending intentions among more than 28,000 Internet consumers in 51 countries. In the latest round of the survey, conducted between March 23 and April 12, 2011, the number of global online consumers saying they are in a recession has receded across all regions. “Global recovery, despite its slow pace, is heading in the right direction,” said Dr. Venkatesh Bala, Chief Economist at The Cambridge Group, a part of The Nielsen Company. “Still, more than half (55%) of global online consumers say they are currently in a recession, and of those, 51 percent expect to be in a recession for at least another year.” Regional differences prevail, with 37 percent of Asia Pacific consumers saying they are in a recession today compared with 82 percent of North Americans and 68 percent of Europeans.

Consumer confidence levels above and below a baseline of 100 indicate degrees of optimism and pessimism.

Divergent Economies

“It’s been an action-packed start to the year marked by widespread social and political reforms in the Middle East, natural disasters and food inflation in Asia, skyrocketing fuel prices in North America and the searing reality of painful austerity measures in southern Europe,” said Dr. Bala. “In the last 18 months, we have seen a clear divergence in how regions and countries are emerging from the global recession and this trend has become even more pronounced in first quarter for better or worse.” 

Seven out of the top ten optimistic countries hailed from Asia Pacific, while European markets dominated nine out of the top ten most pessimistic nations. India remained the most optimistic country in first quarter (131 index points) followed by Saudi Arabia (118) and Indonesia (116).

Confidence in Asia was boosted by continuing high employment, which is energizing consumers to spend again. Sixty-six percent of Asia Pacific online consumers described their job prospects for the next year as good/excellent, up 11 percentage points from last quarter. “The recession is over for 63 percent of Asia Pacific online consumers and they are gearing up for a spending spree. However, lingering concerns over rising food prices may prompt many to seek value in their daily necessities,” said Cheong-Tai Leung, President Nielsen Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa. Latest Nielsen data reports that nearly half (48%) of Asia Pacific consumers will spend discretionary funds on holidays in the next six months, as well as clothing (44%), entertainment (41%) and new technology (38%).

In China, the world’s second largest economy, confidence rose eight points to an index of 108. “The good news is that income is rising faster than inflation, particularly in rural areas, and living standards continue to improve,” said Karthik Rao, Managing Director, Nielsen China. “As a result, we continue to see strong growth in marketplace demand, even in discretionary categories.”

In the Middle East/North Africa, Egyptians’ overwhelming elation of a new nation led to a 29 point surge to a score of 102 for the country – the highest confidence increase among all markets tracked in first quarter. “The joy of gaining civil and political freedom and experiencing the first truly free voting has raised consumers’ expectations and hopes for faster economic growth,” said Khaled El Tohami, Managing Director, Nielsen Egypt. Egypt’s new-found confidence spread to neighboring Saudi Arabia (+11) and United Arab Emirates (+12) countries, which both enjoyed double-digit increases compared to the previous quarter.

Consumer confidence levels in Europe continued to decline in 18 out of 28 countries measured for a regional consumer confidence drop of five points from last quarter to a score of 73. Eleven posted record lows: Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain and the Ukraine. In contrast, Germany, Europe’s largest economy, surged ahead 18 points within one year to record its highest consumer confidence level on record at 92 index points, driven by declining unemployment rates and good job prospects. Neighboring Austria also posted its highest consumer confidence reading on record at 97 index points (+1), while Switzerland remained Europe’s most optimistic country at 110 index points (unchanged from previous quarter).

North America rose two index points to a consumer confidence score of 85 driven by increases in both the United States and Canada. “In the U.S., an improving labor market drove a two point rise in consumer confidence, but the resulting score of 83 is still precariously close to the recession low of 80 recorded in 2009,” said James Russo, Vice President, Global Consumer Insights at The Nielsen Company. “Concerns over rising fuel prices rose to 18 percent this quarter – up from only four percent three months ago. These results support Nielsen sales trends, which declined 0.5 percent in the first quarter. Spending, however, is moderately increasing especially at the more affluent levels as households earning more than $100K continue to increase shopping trips.”

Latin America declined 10 points to an index of 90, driven largely by Brazil’s 13 point index drop amid rising inflation and interest rates and a new political scenario. “The current results put Brazil back to levels recorded in early 2009 when the world felt the effects of the global crisis more strongly,” said Eduardo Ragasol, General Manager, Nielsen Latin America. “While sales have slowed since the previous period, they are still growing at a rate of 2.3 percent.”

Increasing Food / Fuel Prices Take a Toll

Replacing the economy as the number one concern among global online consumers, the rise in food prices is now what worries consumers most, increasing four percentage points from last quarter to 13 percent. The economy, the second biggest concern, dropped seven points to 11 percent in first quarter. Fuel prices also increased significantly as a major concern for consumers, escalating six percentage points to eight percent. Rising utility bills remained a top concern among seven percent of online respondents.

“Rising fuel and food prices are taking a toll on consumers around the world as more and more households are spending a higher proportion of their limited income on these necessities,” said Dr. Bala. “As spare cash continues to dwindle, consumers are taking actions to save on household expenses by spending less on non-essential items and activities.” More than half of respondents indicate that they will spend less on new clothes, out-of-home entertainment and gas/electricity. Forty-seven percent of consumers plan to switch to cheaper grocery brands and 44 percent will cut down on take-away meals.

*Due to sampling restrictions caused by the March earthquake/tsunami, Japan was not included in the Q1 survey.

About the Nielsen Global Online Survey

The Nielsen Global Online Survey was conducted between March 23 and April 12, 2011 and polled more than 28,000 consumers in 51 countries throughout Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America. The sample has quotas based on age and sex for each country based on their Internet users, and is weighted to be representative of Internet consumers and has a maximum margin of error of ±0.6%. This Nielsen survey is based on the behavior of respondents with online access only. Internet penetration rates vary by country. Nielsen uses a minimum reporting standard of 60 percent Internet penetration or 10M online population for survey inclusion.  

About The Nielsen Company

The Nielsen Company (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence, mobile measurement, trade shows and related assets. The company has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA. For more information on The Nielsen Company, visit www.nielsen.com.