By Susan Fenton
(Reuters) - Indonesia overtook India as the most optimistic consumer market globally, according to a survey by global information and insights company Nielsen.
Japan, where the central bank has aggressively boosted economic stimulus, reported its highest consumer confidence score since 2006 although Japanese were still very cautious about the outlook.
Global consumer confidence rose in the first quarter, with a marked increase in sentiment in the United States, Japan and northern Europe, the survey showed.
Consumers in Europe's south, where austerity imposed to tackle the region's debt crisis has helped push unemployment to record levels, remained among the most pessimistic.
Confidence improved in 60 percent of markets globally, compared to only 33 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.
By region, consumers in North America were most upbeat about their spending intentions for the next 12 months, with 42 percent of respondents there saying they planned to spend on discretionary items during the year. That was much higher than the North American average of 33 percent over the past three years and compared with 39 percent in the Asia Pacific region.
Canadians were in the top 10 most optimistic consumers in the latest poll but Nielsen was cautious about the outlook for consumers in the United States.
"Americans are in phase two of the economic recovery, however for many it just doesn't feel that way," said Nielsen's senior vice president, Global Consumer Insights, James Russo.
"Three years of strong gains in the equity market are balanced by five years of declining median household incomes, which highlights the economic divide and precarious state of the recovery."
The Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Index rose 2 points in the first quarter to 93, after dipping 1 point in the previous quarter. A reading below 100 signals consumers are pessimistic about the outlook.
Portugal was the most pessimistic market, followed by Greece, although Greece's score improved from a quarter before.
"We suspect that fears of the European debt crisis spreading beyond recession-stricken southern European countries may have eased in the first quarter," said Venkatesh Bala, chief economist at The Cambridge Group, a part of Nielsen.
"However, weak labour market conditions in troubled economies, including Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, and the recent Cyprus financial crisis are further indications of the fragile state of the European economy, which continue to hinder a full recovery in the region."
Confidence fell in parts of the Middle East and Africa and dipped in Latin America. Egypt's reading plunged 20 points to 74 while in Saudi Arabia it fell by 17 points to 95.
The Nielsen survey was conducted between February 18 and March 8 and covered more than 29,000 online consumers across 58 markets.
Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Index in the first quarter, 2013 (change from Q4, 2012 survey in brackets):
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