Consumer optimism increases
Confidence among Ulster consumers improved slightly last month but remains stubbornly below average, a report has said.
Northern Bank quizzed households in early December about their finances and their view of what 2012 holds in store.
The pre-Christmas glow prompted the overall confidence index to rise to 98, up from 94 - but still below the average for the last three years, the bank said.
Northern Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said: "The small improvement in sentiment perhaps reflects a more upbeat attitude in the run-up to Christmas and it may also suggest a degree of relief that Northern Ireland is not a member of the European Monetary Union."
There were some signs of growing optimism as fewer people told the survey that they expected to spend less in 2012.
Some 100 out of 1,000 surveyed believed their finances would get better this year, 45% thought they would stay the same and 40% expected them to get worse.
Ms McGowan said: "Although there has been a minor improvement, consumers still remain broadly pessimistic about their household finances for the year ahead and are probably basing their expectations on their recent history of rising prices, static wages and increased taxes."
She said that it will take time for households "to rebuild confidence levels and move away from their very cautious spending patterns".