Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Bleak Christmas. And its about to get worse

Paul Keating's Canberra haunt has just shut shop


December quarter seasonally adjusted purchases

Footwear, jewelery: down 8%
Cafes & restaurants: down 7%
Takeaway food: down 8%
Supermarkets: down 0.3%
Electrical goods: up 2%
Clothing outlets: up 4%
Hardware, garden: up 5%

ABS 8501.0
Volumes adjusted for price changes

Cautious austere consumers have displaced shopoholics, driving down seasonally adjusted spending for the first December quarter on record, apparently untempted by price cuts.

New Bureau of Statistics figures show retail spending fell a seasonally adjusted 0.5 per cent in the traditionally busy December quarter, with the prices paid slipping 0.1 per cent and the volume of goods bought sliding 0.3 per cent.

Released as Myer reported a 3.5 per cent fall in sales for the six months to January the ABS figures show seasonally adjusted purchases of shoes down 8 per cent, meals at restaurants down 7 per cent, and quantities bought from specialty meat, fruit, bread and fish shops down 0.4 per cent.

Total purchases of food fell over two consecutive quarters for only the second time on record.

The figures are all the more remarkable because the slide in food volumes took place as the population grew 0.5 per cent and employment climbed 1 per cent...

"I do not think people are eating less food, but I do think they are buying much cheaper food," said Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman. "They are walking into shops with much lower budgets and not budging, no matter how big the discounts."

The survey took place ahead of Cyclone Yasi and the January floods. Mr Zimmerman is bracing for a bleak few months, the toughest in 30 years.

"The flood levy will make things worse. It will really set people back the cost of a cup of coffee - $1.80 to $2.50 - but it will be perceived as a big thing and people are looking for reasons not to spend."

Treasurer Wayne Swan said consumers were taking "a more cautious" which wasn't surprising given stream of difficult news.

He said heavy discounting appeared to have slowed sales growth rather than boosted it.

A separately-released Dunn and Bradstreet survey found business selling price expectations down 16 per cent over the past two quarters with sales expectations their lowest for 18 months.

An extra 4 per cent of firms failed to pay their accounts on time in the December quarter with the number of severely delinquent accounts 90 days overdue up 7 per cent.

"Many retailers are seeing how long they can delay paying the rent and pushing out paying suppliers," said Mr Zimmerman. "It's a question of how long they can last."

Published in today's SMH and Age

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