UK consumer confidence picks up in January - GfK

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January 31, 2013 11:21 AM EST

British consumer morale rose in January when people grew less pessimistic about the year ahead and more willing to undertake major purchases, a survey from researchers GfK NOP showed on Thursday.

GfK NOP's headline consumer confidence index rose to -26 from December's -29, beating analysts' forecasts for it to remain unchanged and moving back towards to the 18-month high of -22 hit in November.

"There's a definite note of optimism in these findings," said Nick Moon, managing director of social research at GfK NOP.

"It is too soon to say if more positive views on the general economy mark the start of (a) sustained rise ... indeed the continuing gloom from the high street and the talk of triple-dip recession makes that seem somewhat unlikely - but a rise in two months out of the last three is an encouraging sign," he added.

Britain's economy slipped back into contraction in the last three months of 2012, raising the prospect of its third recession in four years, and three major high street chains hit the rocks in the first couple of weeks of January.

But there have been some more positive signs for consumers from the Bank of England's Funding for Lending Scheme, which appears to have boosted mortgage availability and supported house prices.

The GfK survey showed consumers' appetite to make big purchases was the highest since January 2012, and their confidence about the economy also rose. However, households' own financial situation worsened over the past 12 months, and the outlook appeared no better than in December.

Weak consumer spending - which makes up about 60 percent of all spending in Britain - is one factor behind the sluggish economic recovery, as wages have risen much more slowly than prices.

Economists polled by Reuters expect Britain's economy to grow by just 1.0 percent in 2013 after shrinking by 0.1 percent in 2012, while consumer price inflation is seen at 2.5 percent.

GfK's polled 2,000 Britons between January 4 and January 13 for the survey on behalf of the European Commission.

(Reporting by David Milliken; editing by Ron Askew)

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