Retail spend unexpectedly dipped in April

Alex Druce
(Australian Associated Press)

 

A surprising dip in retail spending during April has stoked concerns about the extent to which consumers are feeling the pinch of wage stagnation.

Seasonally adjusted retail spending dropped by 0.1 per cent to $27.33 billion last month after a rise of 0.3 per cent in March and a 0.8 per cent lift in February, according to seasonally adjusted data released on Tuesday Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The result missed the consensus forecast of a 0.2 per cent rise but did not make a meaningful dent in the Australian dollar ahead of the Reserve Bank’s monthly board meeting on interest rates.

The dollar was worth 69.72 US cents at 1300 AEST.

NAB economist Kaixin Owyong said the April decline was a concerning development for an already stagnant economy.

“Following three quarters of consecutive weakness in retail volumes, these data are a worrying sign that the consumer remains in poor shape,” Ms Owyong said.

Spending on household goods fell by 0.9 per cent; cafes, restaurant and takeaway food services fell 0.7 per cent; and clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing dropped by 1.2 per cent for the month.

This was offset slightly by a 0.8 per cent lift in other retailing, a 0.2 per cent rise in food retail, and a 1.8 per cent lift in department store spending.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions said consumer spending had been dulled by poor wage growth.

The sentiment was echoed by BIS Oxford economist Sarah Hunter, who added that a housing market downturn continued to take its toll, while competition from online sales had squeezed bricks-and-mortar-retailers.

“Although conditions are improving in the mining sector the housing market continues to trend down, which is putting a drag on households’ wealth and spending patterns at the margin,” Ms Hunter said.

Retail spending in April fell by 0.4 per cent in both NSW and Victoria, by 0.5 per cent in the Northern Territory, and by 0.2 per cent in the ACT.

There were rises in Queensland (0.7 per cent), South Australia (0.6 per cent), Western Australia (0.1 per cent) and Tasmania (0.3 per cent).

Ms Owyong said the retail figures for May would also likely come under pressure given anecdotes of weakness in the lead-up to the federal election.

“(This) means June sales will be important to see if there was a post-election bounce,” Ms Owyong said.

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