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UK consumers show 'amazing' stoicism before Brexit - GfK

UK consumers show 'amazing' stoicism before Brexit - GfK
FILE PHOTO: Shoppers browse aisles in a supermarket in London, Britain April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall -
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LONDON (Reuters) - British households are showing "amazing" stoicism as the country heads for Brexit, a market research company said on Thursday as its measure of consumer confidence edged up in February.

Against a backdrop of headlines about the growing risk of Britain leaving the European Union without the cushion of a transition deal, the GfK consumer confidence index improved slightly to -13 from -14 in January.

Economists taking part in a Reuters poll had expected a fall to -15.

January's reading was the lowest in more than five years.

But GfK said consumer confidence was not showing the kind of slide it experienced the Brexit referendum in June 2016 and at the start of the global financial crisis a decade ago.

"It is worth bearing in mind that many economic indicators - employment levels, wage growth - remain positive," Joe Staton, GfK's client strategy director, said.

"But it is frankly amazing that confidence is so stoic and stable in a world of sharp political instability and fear of the unknown."

Separate data published on Thursday showed Britain's housing market remained weak but stable in February.

House prices rose by 0.4 percent in annual terms, only a small pick-up after they stagnated in January, mortgage lender Nationwide said.

Britain's housing market has slowed since the Brexit referendum in June 2016 when Nationwide estimated house prices were rising by around 5 percent a year.

Prime Minister Theresa May this week opened up the possibility for parliament to vote to delay Britain's departure from the EU beyond the scheduled date of March 29.

The GfK survey showed households' feelings about their personal finances held steady but they were more willing to make major purchases and their outlook on the economy over the next 12 months improved slightly from January's seven-year low.

Spending by Britain's consumers has helped the economy to withstand the strains of Brexit, and the combination of slowing inflation and gradually rising wages is expected to help households in 2019, even as the overall economy weakens.

By contrast, many employers are showing signs of nervousness and business investment fell throughout 2018 according to official data.

The GfK survey was carried out on behalf of the European Commission between Feb. 1 and Feb. 14.

(Reporting by William Schomberg, editing by David Milliken and John Stonestreet)

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