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UPDATE 1-Irish consumer sentiment falls sharply on COVID-19 fears

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DUBLIN, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Irish consumer sentiment dropped in October to its lowest level in five months, amid growing concern about the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on household finances and jobs, a survey found on Friday.

The KBC Bank consumer sentiment index tumbled to 52.6 in October from 60.7 in September. That compares with a pandemic low of 42.6 in April during a complete lockdown of the economy and a 2020 high of 85.5 in January before the first case.

Respondents were surveyed either side of the Oct. 13 budget, which delivered Ireland’s largest-ever stimulus package and before the government followed a series of increasing COVID-19 restrictions with a stay-home order this week.

“The current level of the sentiment survey points to a very nervous Irish consumer,” KBC Ireland chief economist Austin Hughes said, noting that apart from the slump in April and May, it was the lowest reading since late 2012 when Ireland was in an EU/IMF bailout programme.

“The largest weakening was seen in consumers’ expectations for their financial circumstances over the next 12 months and likely reflects increased nervousness about the lasting impact of the coronavirus and related restrictions.”

Hughes said those surveyed after the budget were less negative and that a relatively limited downgrade of household current finances and spending plans was “one small positive.”

Irish households have saved at a record rate since the start of the pandemic, partly for precautionary reasons but also because of the mandated closure or limited operations of many retail outlets, such as pubs and restaurants.

All non-essential retail will remain shut until Dec. 1 under Ireland’s highest level of COVID-19 restrictions, with pubs and restaurants only allowed to provide take-away service. Bars that only serve drinks have not been allowed open in Dublin since March. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Larry King)

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