On the Money: Consistent inconsistencies cause havoc

Conflicting information keeps us guessing, and sometimes gets our hopes up, too.

Gary Clement for The National
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There's nothing more disconcerting than conflicting information. And it happens a lot in the world of business and personal finance these days.

Which is why I'm going to take a deep breath and confess to being a little confused this week.

Every week, hundreds of reports, surveys, analyses and press releases land in my e-mail box, each of them jostling for my attention with their subject lines.

The property market is on the rebound, boasts one. No it's not; it's flat, says another just a day or two later. Market confidence is at an all-time high, another proclaims. But a week later, a different report will announce that same confidence has plummeted to an all-time low. Consumer optimism has never been better. But wait: another survey says it's never been worse. Retail sales are down, retail sales are up. At least they are consistent in their inconsistencies.

Weeding out the wheat from the chaff when it comes to what's really happening is a challenge. And in the current economic climate, it is getting more difficult as the masters of spin (that's the PRs) talk up the clients and companies they represent.

And that's what has caused me to be a little confused this week.

It's a no-brainer that we have been living in an age of austerity since the financial crisis hit. And it's a no-brainer that the world economy is still suffering. This is evident in the eurozone crisis and Greek tragedy that has been playing out, not to mention the debt debacle in the US.

So it made sense a month ago when National Bonds, the Dubai-based Sharia-compliant savings scheme, released its 2011 Savings Index, which found that the nation's confidence in its ability to save for the future had dropped compared with the previous year.

National Bonds' annual savings index was conducted in conjunction with YouGov and 501 people were surveyed. It found that the level of our savings had fallen over the past year, while 86 per cent of respondents felt that they'd not saved enough for their future and 71 per cent didn't save regularly.

The respondents blamed a couple of factors for this, but it emerged that the main reason for our lack of confidence in our savings ability was down to the increased cost of living in the UAE.

When you look at the big picture and the current economic climate we are in, the results of the National Bonds survey are logical. Of course we are not going to be optimistic about our financial futures when so many of us have lost our jobs, our homes and had so much wiped off our retirement funds at the height of the economic crisis. In fact, it's a normal reaction to be wary of our financial futures considering what we've experienced.

For the past few weeks, we've been watching the world's biggest economy teeter on the brink with its own US$14.2 trillion (Dh52.1tn) debt burden. Although US lawmakers have finally come to an agreement to lift the country's debt ceiling by a couple of trillion dollars, how much of a confidence booster do you think this will have on you and your personal finances? I know it doesn't instil any confidence in me and the way I approach my money management, which, these days, I do with extreme caution.

Which brings me to the latest survey I received this week, and the reason why I'm writing about my confusion today. According to a Bayt.com and YouGov survey on consumer confidence, residents of the UAE "hold an optimistic view of their personal financial future".

Say what?

However, the survey found that employees feel their current salaries are not in line with the cost of living in the Emirates. I know this is true because I've been saying the same thing for a couple of months now.

But how is it that this survey concluded that we are optimistic about our personal financial futures? The Bayt.com quarterly MENA Consumer Confidence Index survey found that 49 per cent of respondents believed that their financial position will improve in a year's time. I'm not so sure about that, but I guess it will depend on the knock-on effect of what's going on in Europe and the US over the next few months.

None of us can see into the future, but this much I do know: the mum and dad investors of the world have lost too much already. And they can't afford to lose anymore.