Christopher Adams

Christopher Adams is the Markets and Banking reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Financial stress levels should ease by Xmas

Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

Though it may sound a little implausible to Kiwis with long Christmas shopping lists, a new report says consumers' financial stress levels should ease in the lead-up to the Silly Season on the back of low interest rates and positive jobs figures.

Credit reporting agency Dun & Bradstreet says its Consumer Financial Stress Index continued to fall last month to -4.8 points, down from -4.6 points in July.

The index has been falling continuously since the start of this year, when it reached almost +15 points.

Although Dun & Bradstreet said the index was yet to reach the lows measured during the the first half of 2011, when it fell to almost -15, financial stress levels were anticipated to ease further this year as increasingly positive economic news bolstered consumer confidence.

"While the official interest rate has now been unchanged [at 2.5 per cent] for two-and-a-half years, its impact on Kiwis' financial position has been amplified during 2013 as improved business confidence, jobs growth, house prices and a strong currency have strengthened the local economy," the report said.

"Under these positive conditions, consumers have been able to more comfortably meet their credit obligations, pay down their debt and recently, spend money with more confidence."

The total volume of retail sales rose 1.7 per cent, seasonally adjusted, to $17.94 billion in the second quarter of this year from a 0.9 per cent growth in the first three months of 2013, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Spending at bars, cafes and restaurants jumped by a record 4.5 per cent to $1.8 billion, seasonally adjusted, in the June quarter.

Dun & Bradstreet New Zealand general manager Lance Crooks said the financial stress index was falling in line with general optimism created by strong house prices, a robust kiwi dollar and positive trade activity.

"With the job market firming and the continuation of low interest rates, we are also seeing consumers more willing to spend on discretionary items, which is something New Zealand's businesses will be hoping builds in the lead-up to Christmas and into the New Year," Crooks said.

Dun & Bradstreet's economic adviser, Stephen Koukoulas, said further easing in consumer financial stress was another sign of improvement in New Zealand's economic conditions.

"With interest rates staying low, employment and wages growth on a steady trend higher, the health of consumer finances continues to improve," Koukoulas said. "An important aspect of the reduction in consumer financial stress is the positive implications this has for further economic activity. The healthier consumer finances are the more likely consumers are to spend."

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