London, Aug 5 : British consumers are the grumpiest in the Western world, according to BNP Paribas economists.
Reviewing barometers of consumer confidence in Europe and the United States, they concluded that: "If there was a competition for the country with the most pessimistic consumers, the UK would be the winner".
The Independent quotes the GFK/NOP poll of consumer confidence, published recently, as saying that British households were more miserable about their fortunes than at any time since the survey began in 1974.
The housing crash of the early 1990s, two miners' strikes, various energy crises, the three-day week, 9/11, 7/7, and the threat of nuclear annihilation during the cold war all failed to shred our optimism as comprehensively as the credit crunch.
Irrational as such an outlook may be, surveys of consumer confidence display a close correlation with spending in the shops, suggesting that the carnage on the high street is only just beginning.
Alan Clarke, UK economist at BNP Paribas, said: "Despite the undoubted pedigree of the competition, the UK consumer easily wins the title of the most pessimistic in Europe and probably the developed world ... Even US confidence has been more resilient."
The British are, it seems, much more depressed about prospects than countries with much worse objective economic difficulties. Spain, for example, is grappling with double-digit unemployment rates and a housing crash, Ireland has seen a sharp slowdown, Denmark is already in recession, and Iceland faces 15.5 per cent interest rates. Yet the UK consumer still refuses to look on the bright side.
By contrast, confidence levels in the traditionally ebullient United States have not shifted very much in recent months.
Nor do things appear on the brink of recovery, given the reasons for the downbeat mood in Britain: "Surging inflation and rising unemployment are likely to have been the main contributors. Given the recently announced huge increases in utility bills, which came after the consumer confidence survey was conducted, there remains scope for a further decline in the coming months.