Consumers were less pessimistic in the third quarter as more jobs opened up, but business sentiment turned sour amid a fresh surge in coronavirus infections, according to the Philippine central bank.

The consumer confidence index improved to -19.3% from -30.9% in the second quarter, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said on Friday.

On the other hand, the business confidence index declined to -5.6% from 1.4% in the previous quarter and after three straight quarters of optimism.

The BSP said consumer confidence has been improving steadily since a 54.5% slump in third quarter of last year amid a coronavirus pandemic.

Consumers were less pessimistic as more family members returned to work and households received higher income. They also approved of the cash aid from the government, sustained vaccine rollout and relaxed lockdown levels.

Consumer sentiment for the fourth quarter also improved to 2.7% from 1.3%, while the spending outlook was better at 31.4% from 25.4%.

The central bank said consumers were becoming less upbeat on their long-term outlook, with the index declining to 18.6% for the next 12 months from 19.8%.

The business confidence index was worse than 5.3% in the third quarter last year, as more business owners turned pessimistic.

This quarter’s business sentiment was the worst since -23.9% in the first quarter of 2009 during the global financial crisis.

Companies said the coronavirus pandemic affected their confidence this quarter, along with lockdowns in August and the continued decline in sales, orders and earnings.

Companies were also concerned about the government’s pandemic response amid the threat of a more contagious Delta coronavirus variant. Higher raw material and commodity prices also contributed to their gloomy outlook.

The business confidence index for the next quarter was at 31.9%. Companies also grew more confident for the next 12 months, as the index rose to 56% from 52.5%.

Meanwhile, the employment outlook index improved to 6.2% for the next quarter and to 24.3% for the next 12 months, from 5% and 14.7%, respectively as more companies expect to hire more workers.

But companies pursuing their expansion plans fell based on their outlook for the last quarter and for the coming year.

Lending remained muted amid the gloomy outlook, central bank Assistant Governor Iluminada T. Sicat told an online news briefing. “Given the uncertainty in terms of income source and employment status, households are borrowing less,” she said.

The central bank interviewed 5,670 consumers for the survey held on July 1-14, and 1,511 business owners for the survey held on July 22 to Sept. 15. — Beatrice M. Laforga