The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released retail trade figures showing a 0.5 per cent growth in the sector, seasonally adjusted, following a 0.4 per cent rise in the previous month.

Both Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman and Australian National Retailers Association (ANRA) CEO Margy Osmond said that Queenslander’s need for new household goods following the natural disasters of late December and January drove the positive outcome.

According to Zimmerman, February was traditionally the toughest month for retailers but this year consumers were restocking in February.

“Usually February isn’t a great month for retailers as credit card bills from Christmas and back to school costs tighten many family budgets. While 2011 February trade followed an 18 month trend of sluggish sales, the result has actually been boosted by consumers replacing damaged goods including furniture, white goods and clothing,” he said.

Household good retailing saw a 2 per cent increase followed by clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing at 0.9 per cent. Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services also recorded a 0.3 per cent rise.

National Retailers Association (NRA) executive director Gary Black said the strong food results were a reflection of the milk price discounting, which was drawing more customers to supermarkets.

“The milk wars seem to have been very effective in driving increased food sales,” he said.

“Milk is acting as a loss leader, which means it is being sold at or below cost by the supermarkets to improve overall sales.

“The underlying story in these figures, however, remains that growth in discretionary spending across the rest of the retail sector was anaemic.”

Meanwhile, turnover was flat in food retailing at 0.0 per cent and fell 0.4 per cent in department stores.

Given the situation in Queensland there was a 2.3 per cent turnover increase in Queensland and 4.8 per cent growth year-on-year. Western Australia (1.6 per cent), Tasmania (1.3 per cent) and Northern Territory (1.7 per cent) also experienced a spike in retail trade. But turnover feel 0.3 per cent for Victoria, 0.5 per cent for South Australia, 1.5 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory and 0.1 per cent in New South Wales.

“While retailers will be cautiously optimistic looking at the data, the sector is still walking on egg shells and there is little confidence recovery will come much before the last quarter of 2011,” Osmond said.

Also, trend turnover rose 0.2 per cent in February 2011. This follows a 0.1 per cent rise in both January 2011 and December 2010. Trend turnover rose 2.3 per cent in February 2011 compared with February 2010.