Retail trade figures are up 1.1 per cent in April, seasonally adjusted, following a fall of 0.3 per cent the previous month, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Known to be the strongest growth for the last 15 months, the results have been warmly welcomed both the National Retail Association (NRA) and the Australian Retailers Association (ARA).

NRA executive director Gary Black said the result was particularly positive given the relatively short trading month in April.

“This result was achieved despite the fact that retailers in most states were forced to close for three or four days during April for public holidays. In that sense it is a particularly strong result,” he said.

At the same time, the ARA said Easter and Anzac Day period gave consumers more time to shop.

Year-on-year results show growth of 3.47 per cent for all retail categories, excluding restaurant and cafe sales.

Department stores experienced the greatest turnover of 3.6 per cent, followed by clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing at 1.2 per cent.

Food retailing and household goods retailing also rose 0.9 per cent and 0.7 per cent respectively.

ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman said department stores and fashion retailers have seen a boost in sales for April, but when compared to the same time last year this growth is still below the rate of inflation.

“Department stores and fashion retailers have posted growth compared to March 2011 because of the earlier, colder weather but retailers aren’t expecting this stronger trade to continue,” Zimmerman said.

“Compared to March, retail trade in April has shown an increase across all industry groups except for cafes and restaurants, which was a welcome boost and probably a result of the extended Easter holiday period when consumers had more time to shop.

On a state-by-state basis, the retail sales results continue to be a mixed bag as turnover rose in Victoria (2.8 per cent), Queensland (1.8 per cent), Western Australia (0.6 per cent), New South Wales (0.1 per cent) and Tasmania (0.5 per cent). Meanwhile, turnover fell in South Australia (-0.4 per cent), the Australian Capital Territory (-0.6 per cent) and the Northern Territory (-0.8 per cent).

“Victoria and Western Australia are now showing very strong results, and have been doing so for a number of months,” Black said.

“On the other side, Tasmania’s retail recession continues, while the poor South Australian result can be directly attributed to the ridiculously restrictive trading hours regime in Adelaide which forced retailers to close for four of the five public holidays during the Easter – Anzac Day weekend.
“If the South Australian Government wants to see its state matching its counterparts to the east and west, it should take the shackles off its retailers and allow them to trade when people want to shop.”

Looking ahead, the ARA said the May figures will rely on winter trade where there will be evidence of how consumers have reacted to new taxes announced in the Budget, which are expected to have spooked shoppers into tightening their belts even further.

“Even though there have been some positive results for April, the modest year- on-year growth is a sign consumers won’t be able to afford any increase to their mortgage repayments if the RBA decides to raise interest rates on Tuesday,” Zimmerman said.