But in spite of the upturn, expectations about the economy, employment and general quality of life remain low Consumer confidence has defied the economic downturn and Sars to register a slight rise, after sinking to its lowest level in over a decade in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the US two years ago. 'There was a slight increase under tremendously difficult conditions, that is the truly astonishing aspect of this survey,' said Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, economic adviser for MasterCard, which conducted the poll. The twice-yearly survey records consumers' outlooks for the next six months. 'I think Sars galvanised Hong Kong people's own spirit,' he added. Dr Hedrick-Wong said the end of the war in Iraq and further evidence that the US economy was recovering helped boost Hong Kong's confidence in the stock market. But consumers remain generally pessimistic about employment, the economy, earning a regular income and quality of life, the survey found. Among the five variables rated by the respondents, they were least pessimistic in the future state of the stock market. Over-all consumer confidence scored 23.2 on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the most optimistic. This compares with a score of 21.3 half a year ago and a high of 86.1 at the end of 1999. In the latest poll, MasterCard surveyed 403 people in Hong Kong between May 19 and June 10 using telephone and face-to-face interviews. The survey participants were all employed, aged 18 years or older and eligible to hold a credit card. In total, 5,467 people across the Asia-Pacific region were polled. Hong Kong ranked the second most pessimistic place in the region, behind Japan, which scored 17.4. MasterCard has a bullish outlook on Hong Kong in tourism and retail. It is forecasting that the number of Asia-Pacific visitors travelling to Hong Kong will rebound to its normal level by the second half of this year. The seven countries surveyed were Australia, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. The company expects retail sales to hit $82.7 billion in the six months ending this year - nearly 1 per cent up on the previous year. Dr Hedrick-Wong said the reason was that Hong Kong people had saved a lot of cash in the past year and would be willing to spend it in the near future. 'That's very encouraging,' said Simon Clennell, spokesman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board. 'We are ourselves confident that tourism will largely return to normal by the end of this year, especially intra-regional tourism within Asia.' He added the tourist industry was not expecting a full recovery until next year as the long-haul market would take longer to bounce back. Asia-Pacific residents are expected to make 5.3 million trips to Hong Kong in the second half of this year, or about 3 per cent more than the same period last year. Mainland residents are forecast to make 6.3 million trips outside of the country in the next six months.