UPDATE 1-Australia consumer confidence falls to 10-mth low in March

Tue Mar 11, 2014 8:05pm EDT

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SYDNEY, March 12 (Reuters) - Australian consumer sentiment fell for a fourth successive month in March as households worried about the economic outlook and their job security, with pessimists now outnumbering optimists, a survey showed.

The index of consumer sentiment, compiled by the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank, fell a seasonally adjusted 0.7 percent in March from February, when it had fallen by 3.0 percent.

The index reading of 99.5 was the lowest since May last year, and it was down 10.0 percent over the past 12 months. The fall below 100 means pessimists now exceed optimists.

"The run of 'bad news' around the motor vehicle industry, other manufacturers and Qantas has clearly rattled consumers," said Westpac senior economist, Matthew Hassan.

Qantas Airways plans to cut 15 percent of its workforce and slash spending after posting a first-half loss.

The largest decline was in the sub-index measuring the economic outlook for the year ahead, which dropped 4.0 percent. But the index for the next five years rose 4.1 percent, reversing much of last month's 4.6 percent decline.

The gauge of family finances over the next 12 months fell 2.3 percent, while the index for whether it was a good time to buy a major household item declined 1.0 percent.

The survey of 1,200 people was conducted in the first week of March. On March 4, when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) kept its cash rate unchanged at a record low 2.5 percent and charted a steady course for policy in the months ahead. (Reporting by Ian Chua; Editing by John Mair)