New Zealand consumer confidence eased in March as cautious consumers remained focused on debt. Confidence in Canterbury rose to the highest since before the earthquakes.

The ANZ-Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence measure eased to 110.2 in March from 113.3 in February. The Current Conditions index posted a 5 point decline to 104.8, while the Future Conditions index eased 1.9 points to 113.8.

"Households are less cautious than they were in 2008 and 2009, but are still cautious nonetheless," said Cameron Bagrie, chief economists at ANZ. "Look no further than the mixed messages across key drivers of consumer sentiment. The labour market remains fickle. Wage gains are modest. Household debt to income is easing but - remains very high."

Four of the five sub-segments that make up consumer confidence fell. A net 10 per cent of households said they were worse off than a year ago, unchanged from February. A year from now a net 23 per cent thought they'd be better off, little changed from the previous month's 24 per cent.


It is still perceived as a good time to buy big ticket household items even as sentiment dropped nine points to a net 20 per cent.

On a regional basis Canterbury recorded the highest lift in sentiment up 8 points to 117.4. This is the highest level since July 2010, before the first earthquake struck on Sept. 4.

Auckland remains the most confident city on 118.5, while Wellington recorded the largest drop falling 13 points to a national low of 100.9.

Confidence slipped for those respondents aged 25 or over and rose for those 24 years or younger. The largest drop in consumer confidence was measure in the 25 to 34 age group, falling 8 points to 113.8.

Female confidence slipped 5 points from 106.5, while male respondents remained unchanged.