SYDNEY, Jan 16 (Reuters) - A measure of Australian consumer confidence only inched higher in January as people fretted about their finances even as they grew more optimistic on the economy and looked to spend more on major items.
The poll of 1,200 people by the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank showed its index of consumer sentiment rose 0.6 percent in January, from December when it fell 4.1 percent. The index of 100.6 meant there is just barely more optimists than pessimists in the poll.
On January last year, the index was up 3.7 percent.
Westpac chief economist Bill Evans was surprised the mood had not improved more given past rate cuts and generally promising news offshore.
“It remains disappointing that despite a total of 175 basis points of rate cuts from the Reserve Bank since October 2011 the Index is only 3.5 percent above its level at that time,” said Evans.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) last cut interest rates in December, taking them to 3 percent and matching record lows touched during the global financial crisis.
Details of the survey showed respondents were concerned about the state of their finances despite the cuts to rates.
The index of family finances compared with December sank 8.6 percent, while that for finances over the next 12 months dipped 1.2 percent.
In contrast, respondents were a little more upbeat on the economy. The index of expectations for the economy in the next 12 months rose 2.7 percent, while that for the next five years increased by 3.3 percent.
Also, the survey’s measure of whether it was a good time to buy a major household item rebounded by 4.7 percent.
Evans said there was still a good case for at least one more cut in rates this year, likely in March. (Reporting by Wayne Cole)