Retail spending tumbles again in August

Retail spending fell for a third month in a row in August due to the impact of coronavirus lockdowns in Australia’s most populous states.

© Alan Porritt/AAP PHOTOS Retail trade is now down 0.7 per cent over the year as lockdowns in the eastern states continue.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said retail turnover fell 1.7 per cent in August, following falls of 2.7 per cent in July and 1.8 per cent in June.

Retail trade is now down 0.7 per cent over the year.

“Retail turnover continues to be negatively impacted by lockdown restrictions, with each of the eastern mainland states experiencing falls in line with their respective level of restrictions,” ABS director Ben James said.

“In direct contrast, states with no lockdowns performed well, with Western Australia and South Australia enjoying strong rises as physical stores were open for trade.”

Another full month of lockdown saw NSW spending fall 3.5 per cent to its lowest level since April 2020, when the pandemic first hit.

A return to lockdown in Victoria saw retail trade fall three per cent, while spending in the ACT slumped 19.9 per cent after non-essential retailing restrictions were imposed from August 12.

A mid-month lockdown in southeast Queensland also saw a 0.9 per cent fall in retail trade.

In contrast, lockdown-free South Australia saw a 6.6 per cent increase in retail turnover and Western Australian sales rose by 2.8 per cent.

However, the national decline fuels expectations of a sharp contraction in the economy of as much as four per cent in the September quarter given household spending accounts for about 60 per cent of economic growth.

But there are signs of hope for retailers once restrictions start to ease in coming months, with consumer confidence remaining relatively upbeat.

The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index – a pointer to future household spending – rose 0.4 per cent and to its highest level since mid-July.

Confidence among Sydneysiders crawled 0.1 per cent higher as COVID-19 cases begin to decline, but fell 0.9 per cent among Melburnians.

ANZ head of Australian economics David Plank said given the Victorian capital faced rising virus infection numbers, tremors from a 6.0 magnitude earthquake and violent anti-lockdown protests, sentiment held up reasonably well. 

Still, the latest weekly survey also showed inflation expectations have nudged higher again.

Consumer inflation expectations edged up to 4.8 per cent in the past week, lifting the four-week moving average to 4.7 per cent, its highest level since 2014.

“High inflation expectations at a time of weak wage growth could drag on overall consumer confidence if people start to worry about the cost of living,” Mr Plank said.

The recent rise in petrol prices to close to three-year highs is one factor that could be troubling people’s views.

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