Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan
Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The April retail update came in weaker than expected, sales dipping 0.1% in the month compared to consensus forecasts of a 0.2% gain.

Annual growth slowed to 2.8% per year, the slowest pace since mid 2018.

The timing of public holidays may have been a factor in April, with Easter falling in the month this year and the ANZAC day public holiday a week later encouraging many to take leave.

While the ABS tries to adjust for these shifting seasonal effects, there may have been more of a dampening effect compared to previous years.

Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

That said, both the sub-category and state detail in April point to wealth effect spillovers from the Sydney and Melbourne led housing market corrections weighing on sales.

In particular, household goods retail sales – a bellwether for discretionary 'durables' spending – fell 0.9% in the month and NSW and Vic both recorded more pronounced 0.4% declines.

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Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The remaining sub-category detail shows a 0.2% gain in the large basic food retail category and more mixed results elsewhere – clothing down 1.2% month and cafes & restaurants down 0.7% month but both coming off sold gains in March; and department stores up 1.8% month and 'other retailing' up 0.8% month but both coming off declines last month.

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Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Needless to say it pays to look through the monthly volatility.

Looking at sales across the major states: NSW –0.4%mth, +1.2%yr; Vic –0.4%mth, +3.7%yr; Qld +0.7%mth, +6.0%yr; SA +0.6%mth, +0.5%yr; and WA +0.1%mth, +2.6%yr.

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Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Looking by channel, online sales look to have posted a reasonably solid 1.1% gain in the April month, although the annual pace of growth in this segment continues to slow. 

The breakdown by retailer size shows weakness concentrated amongst small retailers, sales in the segment down 0.9%mth. Large non-food retailers saw a flat result while large food retailers recorded a 0.6% gain.

Overall the April retail update is clearly on the soft side, marking a weak start to the June quarter and with some worrying signs that wealth effect drags may be intensifying.

Click here to enlarge: 

Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Click here to enlarge: 

Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Click here to enlarge: 

Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Click here to enlarge: 

Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Click here to enlarge: 

Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Click here to enlarge: 

Australian retail sales soften again: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

MATTHEW HASSAN is a Senior Economist for Westpac

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Retail Sales Matthew Hassan

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