Consumer confidence slipped back into pessimistic territory, as measured by a Westpac McDermott Miller survey, but is still seen as resilient.
Westpac senior economist Donna Purdue said consumers in this country appeared to be less pessimistic than most overseas counterparts.
Plausible reasons why New Zealand consumers were not suffering such a bad case of depression included the traction policy makers were getting from monetary and fiscal stimulus.
Others were the relatively low exposure households in this country had to financial assets, and the mild correction in the New Zealand housing market compared to the experience in the US, Britain and much of Europe.
The Westpac McDermott Miller consumer confidence index fell to 96.0 in March from 101.3 in December, remaining well above the low of 81.7 reached last June.
An index number below 100 indicates more pessimists than optimists, while a number above 100 indicates that optimists outnumber pessimists.
"Confidence has remained remarkably resilient given the sheer volume of negative news consumers have been bombarded with in recent months," said Purdue.
Regardless of how New Zealanders compared with overseas consumers, at current levels the index still pointed to continued weak consumer spending for the next few months at least.
"We estimate that real consumer spending was flat through the March 2009 quarter following a 0.4 per cent decline in the December quarter and these data suggest little improvement in the near term," she said.
When consumers were asked what they would do with a $10,000 cash windfall, 58.3 per cent said they would pay off debt or save it, compared with 53.1 per cent in the December quarter, and 50.5 per cent at the same time last year.
McDermott Miller managing director Richard Miller said about two out of every three consumers expected bad economic times in the year ahead.
The major reason given was the global economic recession, followed by expected price increases, poor export prospects and growing unemployment.