By Beatrice M. Laforga, Reporter

Consumer sentiment for the last quarter of the year turned less pessimistic, while business confidence improved as lockdowns were eased and companies expected better job and sales prospects, according to the Philippine central bank.

The consumer outlook turned positive for the next quarter and more people and businesses remained optimistic for the next 12 months, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said in a statement on Friday, citing the results of its latest survey.

The consumer confidence index improved slightly to -47.9% in the fourth quarter from -54.5% in the past quarter, signaling Filipinos’ hope for more available jobs and higher income for some family members, Some Filipinos also expected an end to the coronavirus pandemic as vaccines become available.

Business sentiment turned positive this quarter to 10.5% from -5.3% in the third quarter, the BSP said. “The positive reading indicates that respondents with optimistic views increased and outnumbered those with pessimistic views.”

But the reading was still lower than levels before the pandemic, when the business confidence index hit 40.2% in the last quarter of 2019.

The respondents also traced the improved consumer outlook to expectations that state relief programs for affected sectors would continue.

The consumer outlook for the next quarter turned positive at 4.3%, and the optimistic outlook was expected to persist in the next 12 months. The index is seen to settle at 23.6% in the next 12 months compared with the earlier 25.5% expectation.

The outlook on household spending for the next quarter was unchanged at 26.4%, the lowest since the nationwide survey started in 2017, the central bank said.

Meanwhile, the improved confidence among companies was traced to the reopening of more businesses during the so-called new normal, easing restrictions and increased demand during the holiday season.

Companies remained positive for the first quarter of next year, with the confidence index jumping to 37.4% from 16.8% in the previous survey.

“Respondents’ more buoyant outlook for Q1 2021 was associated mainly with expectations of reopening of firms and adapting to the ‘new normal,’” the BSP said. They also expected a pickup in sales as coronavirus vaccines become available, it added.

Business sentiment turned more optimistic for the next 12 months as the confidence index rose to 57.7% from 37.5% in the previous survey.

The employment outlook index for both next quarter and in the coming year also turned positive, indicating that companies were likely to hire more workers.

The central bank interviewed 5,612 households for the consumer expectation survey on Oct. 1-13, while 1,513 companies responded for the survey on Oct. 6 to Nov. 24.