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New Zealand Consumer Confidence Falls

New Zealand Consumer Confidence Falls in Latest MasterIndex Survey

New Zealand, 10th July, 2003 – New Zealanders are less optimistic about the economy, employment, the stock market and overall quality of life in the latest MasterIndex of Consumer Confidence™ survey.

The MasterCard International survey, carried out in May - June 2003, shows New Zealanders are significantly less positive in their outlook for the next six months than they were in the December 2002 survey.

In its eleventh year, the bi-yearly survey is the most comprehensive and longest running consumer sentiment survey in the Asia/Pacific region. Covering 13 markets the survey is conducted twice a year to analyze prevailing consumer perceptions of economic conditions for the six-month period ahead. The scores ranging between 0 and 100 are based on responses to questions on five variables: employment, economy, regular income, stock market and quality of life. The latest report surveyed a total of 5,467 consumers between May 19 and June 10.

New Zealand’s MasterIndex has fallen to 56.6, compared with 65.8 for the previous period. Sectors taking a particular hit were employment, (49.4 compared with 62.3), the economy (46.5 vs 65.0), the stock market (47.1 vs 57.1) and quality of life (51.0 vs 58.1). The current overall slight optimism in the market is due mainly to the high expectations of regular income (89.0 vs 86.4).

“While New Zealand’s MasterIndex is lower, it’s still notable in that, along with China, New Zealand is the only market to maintain an optimistic MasterIndex in the last six surveys since December 2000,” says Leigh Clapham, Senior Vice President and General Manager – Australasia.

“This confidence certainly isn’t echoed across the Tasman. Australian consumer sentiment has been moderately pessimistic for the last two periods, with the MasterIndex at 45.3, as opposed to 44.6 for the previous period,” he says.

Australians’ expectations for their stock market have picked up significantly, from 28.1 to 55.0, but their sentiments on employment and quality of life are lower than they were six months ago.

Looking at the region overall, despite war in Iraq, the threat of terrorism and the outbreak of SARS, consumer outlook in most Asia/Pacific markets improved from the six months preceding, although sentiment remains generally low. The latest MasterIndex of Consumer Confidence™ survey revealed that of the 13 markets surveyed, Thailand and India manifested the largest increases in consumer confidence from six months ago, while China and New Zealand remained optimistic, albeit at slightly reduced levels. Consumers in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong remained pessimistic.

Highlights include:

· Six markets that emerged in the preceding period as optimistic, continue to manifest positive sentiment – Thailand (80.3), Malaysia (71.8), India (70.1), China (68.0), Indonesia (57.5) and New Zealand (56.6). The others maintain a pessimistic outlook.
·
MasterCard International – Page 2
New Zealand Consumer Confidence Takes a Hit in Latest MasterIndex Survey July 10th, 2003

· Thai consumers have taken the lead from China as the region’s most upbeat about the future with a record high index.
·
· China, which has seen a significant and almost consistent rise in consumer confidence over the last six periods recorded its lowest confidence levels since the Asian economic crisis.
·
· The other markets affected by SARS – Singapore (33.9), Taiwan (26.5) and Hong Kong (23.2) – remain down. Against Asian economic crisis levels, Singapore is on par, Hong Kong consumers are less pessimistic, while Taiwan has sunk below its crisis average.
·
“There is a great deal of interest in this latest MasterIndex, being the first one released that would reveal the impact of the Iraq war and SARS on consumer sentiment. It is apparent that sentiment has changed significantly from a year ago for most markets, but not so dramatically since the end of 2002. The greatest impact is seen in China and Taiwan, both of which have been heavily hit by SARS. It

is encouraging to see some possible signs of recovery in Hong Kong and Singapore with consumers looking ahead slightly more positively now than they did six months ago,” said Stuart McDonald, MasterCard, senior vice president, Corporate Services Asia/Pacific.

“On the other end of the spectrum, we observe striking gains from Thailand and India, both of which are at or near record highs, as well as a much improved outlook in the Philippines,” he added.

“Thailand’s rise to the top place in consumer optimism in Asia/Pacific is a direct reflection of the economy’s ability to generate strong income and employment growth from its domestic sector, especially in consumption related activities. Thailand was just as severely affected by SARS as many other countries in the region and yet the strength of its consumers has been able to more than compensate for the external shock. In this regard, the Thai experience holds many lessons for the rest of the Asia/Pacific,” said Dr. Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, economic advisor, Asia/Pacific, MasterCard International.

MASTERINDEX COUNTRY FINDINGS

AUSTRALIA

Australian consumers remain somewhat pessimistic at a current index of 45.3, similar to where they were six months ago. Consumer expectations of the stock market have picked up significantly from 28.1 to 55.0. Sentiments on regular income remain positive (62.6 to 61.3), however, a decline in outlook for employment (34.9 vs 44.6) and quality of life (31.4 vs 43.9), which are at among their lowest levels in the survey’s ten year history, have consequently weighed down the overall score.

CHINA

Consumer confidence in China has fallen off sharply from its previously record high level of 84.4 in December 2002 to the current MasterIndex of 68.0 – a level not seen since the Asian economic crisis. Consumers’ expectations of all five economic variables have likewise declined significantly but they are nevertheless still optimistic, particularly with regard to quality of life (88.6) and to a lesser extent, economy (71.0) and regular income (69.3).

China’s three major urban centers have echoed the overall drop. Shanghai (72.0) seems to be slightly more hopeful than Beijing (69.9) and much more upbeat than Guangzhou (62.1). Consumers continue MasterCard International – Page 3
New Zealand Consumer Confidence Takes a Hit in Latest MasterIndex Survey July 10th, 2003

to have very high expectations of their quality of life (Shanghai 92.2; Beijing 92.6 and Guangzhou 81.0). Both Shanghai and Beijing consumers are also fairly positive on employment even though their counterparts in Guangzhou are less so.

HONG KONG

Hong Kong’s confidence remains very weak, although its current score of 23.2 suggests a slight improvement from December 2002 (21.3) and a significant trend up from a year ago (13.9). Current sentiments on four out of five variables remain deeply pessimistic, however, outlook for the stock market has pulled the overall index up. The current score is only about half of its historical average (46.3).

INDIA

India has rebounded from its second lowest level a year ago (43.0) with its current near record high score of 70.1, last seen at the end of 1999. Indian consumers are highly optimistic about regular income (87.1), quality of life (80.0) and are positive about the economy (73.0) and stock market (68.8). As has been the case in the past, they maintain a pessimistic view on employment (41.5).

INDONESIA

Indonesian consumers continue to be positive (57.5) although less so than year ago (67.7). Current optimism in the market, as in most previous indices, is driven largely by very high expectations of regular Income (90.9). Outlook on the economy (60.8) has improved since the last survey (46.5) and is now fairly positive. Quality of life and employment continue to be a concern for Indonesians.

JAPAN

As in all twenty-one MasterIndex surveys to date, the score for Japan at 17.4 indicates deep pessimism resulting from a very depressed outlook on most of the five variables. While the score is marginally higher than it was at the end of last year, it is significantly lower than it was a year ago. Stock market (46.5) sentiments, though still negative, are much higher than the other variables.

KOREA

Consumer confidence in Korea has further weakened. Its current index of 31.0 represents a dramatic drop from a year ago (76.5), although it is somewhat higher than its Asian economic crisis average (26.1). The decline in sentiment is reflective of poor expectations on nearly all variables. Even the view on regular income (47.9), which is close to the neutral mark, has fallen by more than 20 index points.

MALAYSIA

Malaysia is the next most optimistic market after Thailand. Consumer confidence at 71.8, though marginally down, has held at current levels since recovering from its last downturn in 2001. Quality of life (86.1) topped the list of variables, while the stock market (59.5) scored the lowest.

MasterCard International – Page 4
New Zealand Consumer Confidence Takes a Hit in Latest MasterIndex Survey July 10th, 2003

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand, one of the two markets to show a continuous optimistic outlook in the last six surveys, is seeing lower expectations (56.6). The decline in consumer confidence is due largely to lower - and even slightly pessimistic in some cases - sentiments on employment, economy, stock market and quality of life. Current optimism can be put down to high expectations of regular income (89.0).

PHILIPPINES

Consumers in the Philippines have become much less pessimistic than they have been for the past year and a half. The current index of 50.1 shows that consumers are not expecting much change over the next six months. Apart from positive sentiment towards regular income (79.4), the other variables are still low.

SINGAPORE

Singapore’s current score of 33.9 represents a very marginal improvement over its preceding record low index of 31.4. It is still at a level experienced only during the Asian economic crisis (34.4). Although still shrouded in pessimism, signs of a recovery can be gleaned from four of the five variables. Consumers have very weak expectations of regular income, which have fallen significantly from 41.2 to the current record low index of 13.9.

TAIWAN

Taiwanese confidence (26.5) is at its third weakest in the history of the survey. It has dropped significantly from its already pessimistic levels six months ago and is a far cry from a year ago (58.9). It is way below its Asian economic crisis average (45.1) and the market’s historical average (50.8).

THAILAND

Thailand has soared from its previous index of 70.3 to 80.3 to take the top spot in consumer confidence. Consumers, who have manifested record or near record high sentiments on the five variables, have never been more optimistic since the inception of the survey in Thailand in 1995.

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