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CLICK TO ENLARGEPETALING JAYA: Consumer sentiment is expected to take a hit before rebounding by year-end as the labour market continues to remain weak, fuelled by restrictions arising from the more infectious Covid-19 variants.

The Consumer Sentiment Index (CSI) suffered a pullback in the second quarter (Q2) of 2021, slipping 34.6 points to 64.3 from 98.9 points in Q1 of 2021.

This was one of the sharpest drops so far, and marked an eleventh consecutive quarter below the neutral level since Q4 of 2018.

The CSI was based on research undertaken by the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER).

According to PublicInvest Research, the sentiment was hurt by fresh lockdown measures as part of phase one of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) which started in June.

The unemployment levels, which remained elevated year-to-date (average up to May 2021: 4.7%), could continue for the remainder of the year and has dampened consumers’ spending appetite in preference for cash conservation, it said.

Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd chief economist Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid (pic below) told StarBiz that judging from the number of Covid-19 cases and the limitation on human mobility as well as the constraint on businesses’ operating capacity, the CSI may continue to hover below the 100-point benchmark for quite a while.Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd chief economist Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid

The labour market continues to remain weak, with an elevated unemployment rate of 4.5% as at May, he said.

He said this means the income prospects would remain unexciting, hence giving more reasons for consumers to stay cautious.

Afzanizam, who is expecting consumer sentiment to pick-up by year-end, said: “The reopening of the economy holds the key for sustainable economic recovery with the vaccination programme being rapidly deployed.

“We expect consumer sentiment to pick up towards the end of the year when herd immunity is achieved and the country could proceed to the next phase under the NRP as planned.”

PublicInvest expects consumer sentiment to remain less-than-encouraging in the near term, given the still unfolding Covid-19 dynamics, especially with the emergence of Delta variant.

But this could change in Q4 of 2021, consistent expectation that herd immunity could be achieved by then, it said.

It added that a similar path of recovery had been observed in advanced economies, namely the United States and Europe, whereby their earlier vaccine accessibility has resulted in full economic openings.

Centre for Market Education CEO and Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) senior fellow Carmelo Ferlito (pic below) said there must be a clear and different strategy in order to uplift consumer sentiment.

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