Australian retail sales remained relatively flat over the month of February, according to the latest Commonwealth Bank Business Sales Indicator (BSI).
The BSI, which tracks the value of credit and debit card transactions processed through Commonwealth Bank point-of-sale terminals, rose by 0.1 per cent (in trend terms) over the month of February, after a flat result in January.
When compared to a year earlier, retail sales are up by 4.4 per cent. According to executive general manager of local business banking at the Commonwealth Bank, Symon Brewis-Weston, the soft retail figures suggest consumers are still cautious, which puts further pressure on the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to leave interest rates unchanged in April.
“The latest data suggests that consumers and business owners are still playing it safe when it comes to spending as the effects of rising interest rates take their toll,” said Brewis-Weston.
“Given that more rises are expected, we’d anticipate seeing a slide in retail sales over coming months.”
Craig James, chief economist of the Bank’s broking subsidiary CommSec and author of the BSI, said although levels of consumer and business confidence are a lot higher than they were a year ago, this doesn’t seem to be translating into improved retail conditions which suggest rates may not rise next month.
“At the Commonwealth Bank, we’re predicting the RBA will keep interest rates on hold in April,” said James.
“This move would be supported by the BSI, which only shows a slight uplift in sales, but nothing to get excited about. Until we start seeing a marked improvement in consumer spending, the RBA would be wise to tread very carefully when it makes its next interest rate decision in April.”
According to James, the solid increase in spending at personal service providers confirms that we are spending more on ourselves to look and feel better.
“The personal service providers category includes hairdressers, spas and beauty salons. Interestingly, while these creature comfort activities are popular at the moment, actual physical luxuries like jewellery, flowers and cameras are not. In part, the pick-up in the sector may be driven by an improvement in the job market, as applicants try to present themselves in the best possible light."
The BSI found that all states and territories recorded a lift in sales in February, apart from Victoria where spending eased by 0.2 per cent. This was the fourth consecutive monthly decline for Victoria. Spending was strongest in Western Australia, recording a lift of 0.7 per cent, with the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland both recording gains of 0.5 per cent.