People buying big-ticket items and dining out more as optimism takes hold.

Kiwis are splashing out on wining, dining and big-ticket items such as new cars and household furniture as consumer confidence hits a nine-year high.

The latest Westpac McDermott Miller Consumer Confidence Index showed the highest levels of economic optimism, security in financial situations and the most buoyant attitude to spending since the pre-recession boom times of 2005.

Where a reading above 100 indicates more optimists than pessimists, Monday's reading showed 121.7 for March - the third-highest reading in the survey's history.

Economists and industry heads told the Herald people were spending extra cash on household furniture and whiteware, new cars and entertainment.


Institute of Economic Research principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub said the confidence was driven by better economic conditions that stemmed from the performance of highly skilled industries such as financial, business and property services as well as activity around the Canterbury rebuild.

People put off buying big-ticket items such as cars, appliances and household furniture during the recession, he said. "As confidence returns you're going to get this supercharged lift."

Retailers Association chief executive Mark Johnson said the organisation's members were anticipating increased sales and began ordering more stock in December.

Lifts had been felt across the household furniture, whiteware, electronics and automobile sectors, as well as in the clothing, department store and gardening supplies divisions, he said.

Hospitality New Zealand vice-president Josh White said there was a noticeable increase in patrons shelling out for meals, bucking trends in previous years to visit only for a coffee or couple of drinks.

"People seem to have a bit more money to spend and they seem to be doing it in our premises," he said.

Scott Brown of Hip Group, which operates 14 establishments in Auckland and Waihi Beach, said customers were spending more and choosing higher-priced items.

John Andrew Ford dealer principal Paul Brown said customers were driving off the lot in new model cars, and he had noticed an increase in business since January. "The market seems to be very buoyant, especially for new cars. We had been experiencing year-on-year growth that we haven't seen in a long time."

Positive, and ready for treats

New shoes, whiteware and dining out were top of the list for confident shoppers on Auckland's Queen St yesterday.

Hawkes Bay mother and son Marlene and Travis Welsh said they were feeling positive about the economy and had a bit of extra cash to spend.

Mrs Welsh had recently bought a new dryer and said the family were going out more.

Her 21-year-old son, who had come to Auckland to celebrate his final exams, was also enjoying having some extra spending money.

"I just got a new job so I am spending up," he said. "I've been a student so I've always been budgeting."