Friday, November 04, 2011

We're spending at shops again?

Christmas is looking up. New retail figures show us returning to the shops, spending an extra 0.6 per cent after adjustment for inflation in the September quarter - the biggest jump in more than a year.

Inflation-adjusted spending on food jumped 1.4 per cent after previously growing at a trend rate of 0.3 per cent, spending on household goods jumped 1.5 per cent and spending on cafes and restaurants jumped 1.2 per cent after previously scarcely growing at all.

The big exceptions were spending at specialty clothes stores which slid an alarming 5.1 per cent, spending at shoe shops which slid an even bigger 13.5 per cent and spending at department stores which slid 2.3 per cent.

The news came as Country Road chief executive Howard Goldberg told shareholders in Melbourne sales per store had slipped 4.9 per cent since June.

Higher interest rates, increased living costs, economic uncertainty and natural disasters had dented discretionary spending.

But ICAP securities economist Adam Carr disagreed. For everything but clothes and the department stores that sold them discretionary spending was taking off.

“We are buying televisions, computers, i-stuff, the works. It looks like we are spending big except we’re not wearing clothes apparently. I’ve always been a fan of nudity, don’t get me wrong, but somehow I don’t quite think we’ve stopped dressing up... I think its the internet, which doesn’t show up in the retail figures. We are spending, it just that we don’t like getting ripped off.”

Newsagencies and book stores, also affected by on-line trading, saw sales slip a further 1.5 per cent in real terms.

The figures show widespread discounting with 6 of the 15 retail sectors identified by the Bureau of Statistics reporting lower prices. Clothing, furniture, pharmaceutical, recreational and electrical good stores all reported deflation.

Australian National Retailers Association chief Margy Osmond said she hoped the September quarter jump in sales marked "a turning point''.

"We are particularly heartened to see a big jump in household goods,” she said. “It is a reflection of the confidence Australians had that the Reserve Bank would do the right thing.''

Australian Retailers Association director Russell Zimmerman said, coming on top of already improving sales, the interest rate cut had given shopkeepers hope.

"Retailers are now looking ahead to the festive season with a glimmer of hope Santa will still come.'' he said.

Spending grew in September for the third consecutive month, increasing in all states but Victoria. In trend terms monthly spending grew most strongly in Western Australia at 0.7 per cent, quite strongly in NSW at 0.4 per cent and weakly in Victoria at 0.1 per cent after growing strongly earlier in the year.

Treasurer Wayne Swan praised the “resilience” of Australian consumers in the face of heightened global instability.

Woolworths’ decision to create more than 9000 jobs this financial year was “a stunning vote of confidence”.

ANZ economist Julie Toth said while the retail pickup was welcome it was selective and would not guarantee a good Christmas.

“We expect spending to remain subdued in December due to the continuing (or even rising) cautionary influences of the weak global economy, risks to household wealth holdings and weak employment,” she wrote to clients.

“These factors are likely to outweigh the benefits of the rate cut.”

Where we spent more...

Inflation-adjusted sales, September quarter

Sporting goods, games shops +8.6
Liquor stores +3.6
Cafes and restaurants +3.3
Meat, fruit, bread, fish shops +2.7
Pharmacies & cosmetics shops +2.6
Furniture & textiles stores +2.0
Hardware & garden supplies +1.6
Electrical and electronics stores +1.1
Supermarkets & grocery stores +1.0

...where we spent less

Takeaway food -1.4
Newsagencies and book stores -1.5
Department stores -2.3
Clothing stores -5.1
Shoe shops -13.6

Published in today's SMH and Age

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