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Australian consumer confidence slides as coronavirus spooks

[SYDNEY] A measure of Australian consumer confidence skidded to five-and-a-half year lows last week as the spread of the coronavirus sparked a huge sell-off in stock markets and badly shook the economic outlook.

The ANZ-Roy Morgan survey of 1,000 consumers reported a 3.2 per cent drop in its overall confidence index to 104.8, the lowest since 2014. A measure of current economic conditions plunged 16.6 per cent for the steepest decline since the global financial crisis in 2009. "The coronavirus impacted consumer confidence in a big way last week," said David Plank, ANZ's head of Australian economics.

Fears over the economic impact from the virus slashed almost 10% from the local stock market last week, wiping out around A$200 billion (S$181.7 billion) in wealth.

"Australians are getting skittish about the well-being of the economy, though they are still quite content about their personal financial circumstances," Plank added.

The survey's measure of financial conditions firmed 3.8 per cent last week amid speculation the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) might cut interest rates again and hints from the government about fiscal stimulus.

The RBA holds it monthly policy meeting on Tuesday and markets are wagering it will cut rates a quarter point to 0.5 per cent.

Still, consumers did not seem inclined to spend more with a measure of whether it was a good time to buy a major household item dropping 3.8 per cent in the week.