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Australian consumer sentiment brightens in Sept: survey

[SYDNEY] A measure of Australian consumer sentiment bounced modestly in September as worries over family finances warred with growing optimism about the economic outlook.

The survey of 1,200 people by the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank published Wednesday found consumer sentiment rose 2.5 per cent in September, from August when it dropped 1.2 per cent.

The index reading of 97.9 was still 3.4 per cent lower than in September last year as pessimists outnumbered optimists.

"Pressures on family finances, concerns around interest rates, deteriorating housing affordability and rising energy prices have all weighed on confidence," said Westpac chief economist Bill Evans.

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"These factors are more than offsetting the boost from an improved outlook for jobs particularly when a stronger labour market has not been associated with increased wages growth."

Employment growth has accelerated markedly this year and survey respondents rated the news on jobs to be much more favourable than just three months ago.

Weighing on sentiment has been endless media coverage of rising energy prices, with the centre-right government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull publicly censuring power companies for putting profits above customers.

As a result, the survey's measure of family finances over the next 12 months fell 2.1 per cent in September.

The index of finances compared to a month ago did bounce 6.1 per cent, but was still down more than 7 per cent on a year ago.

The mood on the economy was a little brighter following government data showing growth rebounded in the June quarter.

The economic outlook for the next 12 months rose 2.7 per cent, and that for the next five years climbed 5.1 per cent.

Likewise, the index of whether it was a good time to buy a major household item firmed 2.1 per cent.

The grim mood in the survey is in marked contrast to increasingly upbeat business polls. A NAB survey out on Tuesday showed firms felt conditions were the best since early 2008 with sales, profits and employment all strong.

Analysts note that, historically, business surveys have a far closer correlation to activity in the broader economy than do polls of the consumer mood, which can prove fickle from month to month.

REUTERS