PUBLIC confidence in the future of the territory has taken its first tumble since last winter, as the talks with China drag on, according to the South China Morning Post's quarterly opinion poll published today. And Hong Kong people are only cautiously optimistic about the territory's economic prosperity over the next 12 months. Yet more people say the present economic situation is good, feel their personal financial position will improve and believe they are more likely to make major purchases in the next three months. This ambivalence, detected by pollster Survey Research Hong Kong (SRH) in its quarterly review of public confidence, is reflected in the contradictory trends of its long-running political and economic confidence indexes on one hand and its purchase intention indexes. The survey does not specify directly the reasons for the decline in confidence for the future. However, the poll was taken in the week of the Governor's second policy address to the Legislative Council, when talks with China seemed to be making little headway. SRH found that of the 1,011 people aged between 15 and 64 it interviewed by telephone, 43 per cent thought the probability of a Sino-British agreement on Hong Kong's political reforms was low. Only 35 per cent thought it was high or quite high, and a further 22 per cent did not know. And while 76 per cent expressed general confidence in the territory's future, that figure was one per cent down on July. Coming two weeks after China lost its battle for the 2000 Olympics to Sydney, the survey also found 50 per cent of Hong Kong people believed Britain's opposition to the Chinese bid would affect the talks. Only 37 per cent thought it would have no impact. While the economic confidence index has remained unchanged at 94 over the past three months after a steep rise in the first half of the year, the purchase intentions index has crept up to its highest level since the announcement of the Sino-British agreement on the new airport of July 1991. By contrast, the political confidence index has dipped slightly compared with July, recording a one point drop to 92 after climbing strongly in the first nine months of the year. But it was still well above the lows reached during the Gulf War in 1991 and the worst months of the Sino-British row over Hong Kong's political reforms last winter. The SRH purchase intention index - a measure of respondent's plans to make a major purchase in the next three months - rose two points to 96. That was slightly better than during the period of euphoria following the airport memorandum, but well short of the record high of 105 in the six months preceding the Gulf War.