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Ulster is second least confident region in UK

Consumer confidence was on the up in Northern Ireland at the end of last year, but the province still finished 2009 as the second least confident region of the UK.

Nationwide's quarterly review found that confidence among consumers and savers in the UK had improved through 2009 and noted that this trend is expected by some to continue in 2010.

The province had a consumer confidence index rating of 70, below the UK average of 76, although this was 40 points up on the level posted in the first three months of last year.

Northern Ireland's savings index rating of 96 was also below the UK average of 101, and by the close of 2009 the province had the joint fewest regular savers in the UK.

Commenting on the figures, Martin Gahbauer, Nationwide's chief economist, said: "Consumer confidence in Northern Ireland started 2009 at the lowest level out of all the UK regions on just 30 points.

"While confidence did pick up considerably - and more than any other region in 2009 - at 70 points it finished the year as the second least confident UK region.

"Encouragingly, sentiment in the future situation did improve considerably. Confidence in the future economic situation increased by 19 percentage points to 36% for those who believe the economic situation will be better in the next six months (compared to 18% who believe it will be worse), while 25% believe the employment situation will improve.

"This compares to just 11% seen at the start of the year. 55% now think the employment situation will get worse in the next six months, a decrease of 25% from the 80% who said it would get worse in the first quarter of 2009."

Commenting on the savings index he added: "This lack of confidence can partly be credited to the low number of regular savers in Northern Ireland; only 43% of consumers in Northern Ireland save regularly, which is the joint lowest in the UK.

"Furthermore, only 12% of people said they would be able to save more in six months' time when asked this question in the first quarter of 2009.

"This meant that Northern Ireland started off the year as the most pessimistic region about its future ability to save more."

Scotalnd was the region with the most confident consumers and savers in the final months of the year.