Anxiety levels across Australia are tumbling

Photo: iStock.

There’s a bit of negativity in Australia right now. Almost daily, we’re bombarded with things that are, supposedly, terrible.

Wage are growing at the slowest pace in at least 20 years, with unemployment elevated. Housing is overvalued, propped up by huge levels of debt, with the risks of a correction — or worse — continuing to grow.

And then there are the politicians. Where oh where to start with that mob!

The concerns only seem to be growing.

It’s enough to make you down in the dumps about living in Australia, and perhaps a little anxious.

While you might think that would be the result, the truth is that Australians, collectively, aren’t all that anxious right not, at least compared to levels in recent years.

According to the latest consumer behaviour survey from the National Australia Bank (NAB) today, the consumer anxiety index — which measures concerns about future spending and savings arising from job security, health, retirement, cost of living and government polices — fell to a survey-low 55.9 points last quarter, down from 58.7 in the final three months of 2016.

Just have a look at the chart below for evidence. It appears out “she’ll be right” attitude hasn’t completely evaporated as yet.

Source: NAB

Making the result all the more pleasing, and perhaps a little surprising, was that not only did anxiety levels fall sharply, the improvement was broad-based in nature.

“Lower anxiety was reported across all survey measures in the March quarter,” said Alan Oster, the NAB’s chief economist.

“Anxiety improved most in relation to job security where, despite soft labour market conditions, around 2 in 3 consumers reported ‘low’ or ‘very low’ stress over their job security.

“Concerns arising from retirement funding and health were also noticeably lower,” he added.

Anxiety levels towards cost of living and government policy also improved, although the NAB notes that around 1 in 4 consumers reported “very high” anxiety in relation to both these issues.

This next chart shows the broad-based improvement across the survey’s components during the quarter.

Source: NAB

Perhaps reflecting improved confidence, respondents indicated that they may even loosen the purse strings when it comes to spending, an outcome that retailers will be encouraged by, given recent weakness in sales.

The survey’s measure on consumer spending behaviour improved from -13 to -10 during the quarter, indicating that fewer consumers intend to cut back their spending levels.

“This was led by an increase in the number of consumers spending more on essentials and a reduction in the number of consumers cutting back on many non-essentials, especially home improvements, entertainment, travel and major household items” said Oster.

The survey found that most were prepared to spend “much less” on transport, take-away food, fitness and alcohol, while the opposite said when it came to spending on internet and mobile phones.

This final table shows anxiety levels on a whole gambit of different metrics, ranging from age, gender and location, all the way through to education level and household size.

The larger the bar, the more anxious those respondents are.

Source: NAB

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