These are hardly times in which we would expect stable progression. So much happening, crisis-like abroad and politically locally, that it is nearly inconceivable that business-as-usual continuity could prevail in key dimensions of our national life.
And yet sizeable majorities of our urban households apparently beg to differ, only marginally tweaking their readings of recent events and future expectations and even then doing so in slow motion.
FNB/BER consumer confidence overall in 1Q2012 was +5, unchanged since mid-2011, suggesting a small majority of urban households retains an optimistic view.
Perceptions of the country's economic prospects perked up from zero to +4 as things apparently look slightly less dire than they did late last year, but with no major change since mid-2011.
Interestingly, own financial prospects have been stuck at +16 since mid-2011.
Thus we find that historically sizeable majorities feel their own financial prospects these next 12 months continues to look good, although some of the neighbours may be perceived as faring worse (seeing the relatively lower assessment of the economy's prospects overall).
This was of course before the Minister of Finance gave most consumers Budget haircuts, upon which households may want to reflect in the 2Q12 June survey.
Meanwhile, households did turn a tad more cautious when it came to now being an appropriate time to buy durables, retreating to -6 in 1Q12 (having averaged -4 in 2011).
Exactly where this uptick in caution is coming from is still a bit of a mystery, though households have been catching up in replacing durable goods and one would expect at some stage some cyclical slowing of such accumulation. And that is before taking into account that real income gains may ease somewhat in the coming year, even if households may still have to pronounce more fully thereon (but give them time).
Going into some of the 1Q2012 survey details, additional insights are on offer that may deepen the overall view.
White consumers remain negative
White consumers maintained their -5 reading overall in 1Q12 from 4Q11 (a small negative majority), following the earlier collapse in 3Q11 to -10 (reflecting at the time industrial action, political unhappiness and deepening crisis sensations overseas and in asset markets).
It took a while longer for White consumers to finally rerate their views about economic prospects from -13 in 2H11 to -5 in 1Q12. This is still negative, but less so.
Meanwhile, White consumer views of their own financial prospects suffered renewed erosion, going from +16 to +10, not a major collapse but reinforcing the step-down seen in mid-2011. Things have apparently changed somewhat for the worse since early last year as large positive majorities became more tenuous, undoing the hopeful step-up in confidence of Christmas 2011.
Certainly the present isn't an appropriate time to buy durables, and hasn't been for a long time, being stuck at -20 since mid-2011 (yet not preventing a lot of car buying and other stuff). Clearly there remains a lot of caution in this market segment, also regards credit.
Article continues on page two, three, four and five: how black-, wealthy-, middle income-, poor-, English-, Afrikaans-, Nguni- and Sotho consumers feel about the economy and their own finances as well as the interesting distinction between white and black consumers...