Consumer confidence weakens as prices remain high

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As Asia Pacific continues to recover from this summer’s devastating typhoons, Saola and Libra, the natural disasters’ impact on the region’s economy has already been apparent. Back in August, consumer prices, primarily in food, rose considerably as a result of fruit and vegetable crop devastation.

Unemployment remained higher than usual, while consumer confidence was below its long-term average. And, as anticipated, foreign trade, especially exportation, declined.

But, did such trends continue in September? Or, were there signs of significant progress? Did consumer confidence and employment increase? Are food prices beginning to drop to more normal levels?

The following figures, regarding employment, consumer confidence, prices, monetary policy, and trade, provide an indication of the region’s current economic recovery.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 14,500 new jobs were added to the national economy in September as 11.5 million Australians held part-time or full-time positions. Despite the upturn in employment, the national unemployment rate rose by 0.3 percent last month, climbing from 5.1 to 5.4 percent. The rise was likely due to a considerable increase in the total number of unemployed residents; in all, nearly 662,700 Australians were without work, an upsurge of roughly 38,800, when compared to August’s employment data. In addition, for the first month since May, the national participation rate augmented on a month-to-month basis, rising from 65 to 65.2 percent, as the nation’s labor force increased by nearly 54,000 members.

South Korea:
For the second consecutive month, South Korea’s composite consumer sentiment index remained unchanged at 99 in September, its lowest measurement since January. Although the overall sentiment index did not rise or fall last month, two of its sub-indices – consumer expectations: domestic economic situation and consumer expectations: employment situation – actually augmented, rising to 79 and 87, respectively. In spite of the increases, two sub-indexes, clothing and eating out, were unaffected, remaining at 95 and 86, respectively, while the durable sub-index declined from 89 to 88. Unfortunately, there are currently no signs that the nation’s consumer confidence measurements will rise to more normal levels prior to the end of 2012, as global and domestic economic conditions remain unstable.

As a result of this summer’s typhoons, which destroyed thousands of fruit and vegetable crops, Taiwan’s consumer prices were once again above average in September, as anticipated. At 110.4, the nation’s Consumer Price Index did decline slightly from August to September, by 0.4 basis points, but prices were still three percent higher last month than they were in September 2011. The year-to-year increase is primarily a direct result of fruit and vegetable prices, which have risen by 29.04 and 26.26 percent, respectively, throughout the past year. Dairy products and fish prices have also augmented throughout the last 12 months, rising by 4.14 and 4.71 percent, respectively; each of these price increases led to a rise in overall food prices, which were 6.54 percent higher last month than they were in September 2011.

As expected, the Bank of Thailand’s policy rate remained unchanged for the ninth straight month in September, holding steady at three percent. Back in January, the rate was reduced by 50 basis points; since then, there has not been any reason to further cut the rate, as the national Consumer Price Index (CPI) and core inflation is currently low. In fact, since September 2011, Thailand’s CPI and core inflation has risen by 2.7 and 1.8 percent, respectively. As its policy target, the Bank uses core inflation, with a fairly wide range of 0.5 to three percent. As core inflation remains well within this range, there is presently no reason to believe the policy rate will be raised or lowered during the fourth quarter.

Back in August, Vietnam reported its first monthly deficit since May – nearly $150 million. However, the deficit was recently revised to a surplus of $51 million, generating some positivity as economists forecasted the nation’s fourth quarter exportation and importation figures. Regrettably, this encouraging news was soon followed by the release of the nation’s latest trade figures, which revealed another monthly deficit in September, of approximately $100 million. According to the General Statistics Office, importation and exportation fell last month, to $9.8 billion and $9.7 billion, respectively. Nevertheless, national trade figures once again rose on a year-ago basis, as importation and exportation increased by 3.8 and 22.1 percent, respectively. As Vietnam’s recovery continues to slowly improve, many economists believe trade figures will remain lower than usual this winter.