Australian retail sales on the up: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Australian retail sales on the up: Westpac's Matthew Hassan
Australian retail sales on the up: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

GUEST OBSERVER

Retail sales posted a 0.5% rise in Oct, mid-way between the consensus forecast of 0.4% and Westpac’s 0.6% (although at 0.549%, closer to Westpac’s call in unrounded terms).That follows 0.4% gains in Aug and Sep.

Store categories recorded a mixed month with solid gains for basic food (+0.6% off a soft Sep), household goods (1.1% but still subdued given housing strength) and a decent bounce for department stores (+3.5% more than reversing the 1.6% drop in Sep. These were partially offset by a dip in cafes and restaurants (–0.6%) and basically flat results for clothing and ‘other retail’.

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Australian retail sales on the up: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The state results ranged high to low from NSW (+0.8% after a quiet Aug-Sep), to Vic & Qld (0.5%, the former after solid gains in Aug-Sep, the latter after back to back declines), SA (+0.3% holding at insipid growth rates), and WA (flat, implying worsening per capita cuts in spending).

The monthly trend sales estimate suggests a slight improvement with annual growth lifting from a 3.6% annualised mid-year to around 3.9%yr currently. 

On a 3mth rolling basis however, annual sales growth is still softening from a peak of 4.6%yr in Q2 to 4% currently. On a broad store-type basis, the slowdown is coming from more moderate growth in household goods retail and a marginal softening in basic food, the contribution from other categories lifting a little. By state, it is mainly centred on NSW & ACT, where strong sales growth had been driving about half of the gains nationally up until earlier this year.

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Australian retail sales on the up: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

A significant wedge is starting to emerge between large and small retailers with the latter struggling again (sales down 0.4%yr). Growth is particularly strong for large non-food retailers (+8.9%yr).

October was a poor month for retailers' sales via online channels, with non seasonally adjusted sales up just 3.5%yr, the first time sales in this channel have dipped below non- online retail since the ABS started providing a split in 2013. Over that short period, online retail has typically grown at 51⁄2 times faster than total retail (i.e. 20%yr+).

All up the pace of sales growth remains sub-par, particularly given that retailers should be indirectly benefitting from the lower AUD's boost to Australia's tourism sector and a consistently more upbeat picture from private sector business surveys. Some of this likely reflects continued aggressive price competition in a range of sub-sectors (the monthly figures are nominal and thus include the impact of both volume and price changes). Recent reads from the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Consumer Sentiment survey point to a more positive tone particularly around Christmas spending plans. Dec-Jan may see some better retail results.

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Australian retail sales on the up: Westpac's Matthew Hassan 

 

Matthew Hassan is senior economist with Westpac.

Tags: 
Retail Sales Spending

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