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Consumer sentiment up slightly

Australian consumers started the new year with little enthusiasm as concern about the family budget outweighed positive sentiment about the state of the economy.

The Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment for January, released on Wednesday, rose 0.6 points to 100.6 points, putting it in positive territory but below its high levels of a few years ago and before the global financial crisis.

A reading above 100 indicates optimists outnumber pessimists among respondents.

Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said the figure was disappointing given the string of interest rate cuts delivered to households over the past year or so.

Since November 2011 the Reserve Bank of Australia has cut the cash rate 1.75 percentage points to its current level of three per cent.

Mr Evans said the survey results also came despite news of improved economic conditions in China, Australia's largest trading partner, and the recent strong performance of the local share market.

"Clearly these positive news events have failed to move respondents," Mr Evans said.

He said the survey showed that while respondents were more positive about economic conditions, they were increasingly concerned about family finances.

The sub index measuring family finances compared to a year ago, fell 8.6 per cent in January, while the index measuring family finances over the next 12 months fell 1.2 per cent," Mr Evans said.