Consumers back to their old borrow-and-spend habits

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The Independent Online

As the recession has turned into mild recovery, so has consumer confidence and old-established habits of spending and borrowing – though political talk about cuts seems to have dented consumer confidence recently.

The determination to pay down debt witnessed during the slump has gradually worn off as the economy has revived, according to the financial website unbiased.co.uk.

The amount of unsecured debt people took on and the level of equity they released from their homes rose during every quarter of last year, according to unbiased.co.uk. Borrowing levels increased from just £1.8bn in the first three months of 2009, to £14.3bn by the final quarter.

The figures are in sharp contrast to the fourth quarter of 2008, when people repaid a net £37.2bn of debt.

Karen Barrett, the chief executive of unbiased.co.uk, said: "While we may be officially out of recession, these latest figures highlight that consumers are back behaving as they did before the onset of the credit crunch, even though the economy is still not back to full strength.

"The credit crunch appeared to have a dramatic 'shock' effect on the public, who were jolted into paying off their debts, but it appears this has failed to affect long-term borrowing and savings habits.

"There is no indication that we will see an improvement of financial behaviour in 2010," she added.

The latest index of shoppers' sentiment, produced by GfK/NOP, showed a modest decline in overall confidence in March, bringing months of improvement to a halt.

Consumers appear to be especially concerned about the outlook for the economy over the next year. The index – which measures the net balance of people expressing confidence over those revealing pessimism – edged back to minus 15 in March, having previously improved to minus 14 in February, and from minus 19 in December.

The consumer confidence index remains appreciably below the long-term average of minus 8, but it is way ahead of its all-time low of minus 39, reached in July 2008.

Nick Moon, who is the managing director of GfK NOP Social Research, said: "With the election only weeks away the Government will be disappointed that consumer confidence has slipped this month. The fall is small but still significant given we saw confidence improve for the first two months of the year. Particularly disturbing is the lack of confidence in the country's economic performance. While consumer outlook is more positive than the same time last year, this fall in confidence around Budget time does not bode well."

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