Friday, April 03, 2009

New car sales off a cliff

Update - it's got worse

Australians are abandoning buying new cars, bringing about the
biggest collapse in car imports on record.

The Bureau of Statistics reports that just $565 million was spent importing cars in February, less than half the $1200 million spent a year before - the biggest annual slide since records were kept.

The slump helped drive a record 13 per cent dive in consumption good imports in February, delivering Australia its seventh consecutive trade surplus.

"Budding car buyers are holding off on upgrading their rides despite the best car affordability in 20 years,' said CommSec economist Craig James...

"While it is bad for dealers it is good for parts suppliers, automotive retailers and insurers. People are holding on to their cars for longer."

"Car dealers will also been keen to get people into new vehicles, pointing to good deals ahead."

Imports of other retail goods were also down, suggesting that retailers are running down supplies amid uncertainty about the outlook for spending.

Official figures released Wednesday showed that that consumers have spent $1.8 billion more than would have been expected since the unveiling of the government's $8.7 billion December stimulus package.

A senior Treasury official David Ray has revealed that the Treasury believes the effect was even bigger, as without the package it expected retail sales to stall for 18 months.

Reserve Bank board member Roger Corbett, a former head of Woolworths, said Thursday he believed that yet another stimulus package would be needed on top of the December package, the March bonus payments and the April tax bonuses at present under challenge in the High Court.

"I think we probably will need another package, however the best way to spend that money is on infrastructure that is an asset that then increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the economy," he told ABC radio.

"In the meantime I think the stimulus packages so far have at this stage served us well."

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull held open the possibility of supporting a further stimulus package saying he would wait and see what the Prime Minister proposed.

"Who knows, he might come up with some sense. But based on the last two packages, they are a very very poor use of of taxpayers money."

Mr Corbett believed that the economy had shrunk further in the 3 months to March on top of the decline the 3 months to December, fulfilling the common definition of a recession.

"But these things are relative. You can cross the line and someone says you are in a recession but the world hasn't changed, it has changed by a few points. I've got to say that I think Australia's doing really well. I think that the government's stimulus packages were right, and I think that what they have done in guaranteeing the banks is also right. They are in great shape. Whilst we can not avoid being affected by the downturn in the rest of the world, for example China stopping manufacutrinhg, I think we have done pretty well at this stage."

The Reserve Bank board member would not comment about the decision the board will make when it meets in Brisbane on Tuesday.

Australian export income recovered in February on the back of improved rural and mining exports. But the recovery is likely to be short lived. The new commodity price contracts that came into force on April 1 are understood to be sharply lower.