Consumer confidence held steady in February, beating analysts’ expectations and maintaining the three-point gain in January, which took it to -26.

The survey by GfK NOP showed sentiment was matched January’s level. It was better than December and in the same month a year ago, while it also beat analysts’ expectations of -27.

“The maintenance of all of last month’s three-point gain is encouraging,” said Nick Moon, managing director of social research at GfK.

“Consumers may be regaining their breath before moving on to a new base camp in the ascent towards the -9 that is the overall average of the index across its almost 40-year life,” he added.

The survey showed consumer confidence in their personal situation over the past 12 months was up four points month-on-month to -20. Meanwhile, sentiment in their personal situation was up two points to -5 – the highest level recorded since May 2011.

Consumer confidence in the general economic situation over the past 12 months fell one point to -52, while sentiment regarding the general economic situation over the next 12 months was flat at -25.

In addition, consumers reported a fall in confidence for major purchases, which was down four points to -26 and the savings index was down four points to -20.

Investec analyst Bethany Hocking said the stabilisation in overall consumer confidence “may point to small glimmers of hope on the horizon”.

But she added: “While the economic backdrop remains weak and real spending power continues to be significantly squeezed, consumer confidence is likely to remain in the doldrums.

“We remain cautious about the general retail sector and are increasingly concerned about the structural decline in industry profitability that the increasing migration of sales away from physical stores and onto online is likely to lead to.”