Australia Christmas retail sales slide in further blow to economy

Shoppers outside of the David Jones Elizabeth St store during the Boxing Day sales on December 26, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. Boxing Day is one of the busiest days for retail outlets in Sydney with thousands taking advantage of the post-Christmas sale prices.

Hanna Lassen | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Shoppers outside of the David Jones Elizabeth St store during the Boxing Day sales on December 26, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. Boxing Day is one of the busiest days for retail outlets in Sydney with thousands taking advantage of the post-Christmas sale prices.

Australian retail sales slumped in December, capping a lousy quarter of disappointing data in yet another blow for the economic outlook and bolstering expectations the next move in policy rates would be down.

Tuesday’s figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed retail sales fell 0.4 percent in December, the worst monthly outcome since a 0.5 percent drop in December 2017.

That compares with expectations for a 0.1 percent decline and an upwardly revised 0.5 percent gain in November thanks to by Black Friday promotions.

Tuesday’s dismal data emboldened rate doves and sent the local dollar below crucial chart support of $0.7200. The Aussie was last fetching 0.7195, a level not seen since Jan.30.

December’s pullback, in part, reflected the impact of discount sales in November which brought spending forward. Online sales added a mere 2.2 percent in original terms in December, after solid gains of 17.8 percent and 10.5 percent in November and October respectively.

For the fourth quarter as a whole, sales were up a mere 0.1 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, and followed a very sedate 0.2 percent gain the previous quarter.

The soft quarter adds to growing evidence of a bumpy outlook for the A$1.8 trillion economy, given household spending accounts for around 57 percent of annual gross domestic product, with property prices also in a downward spiral over the past year.

Consumer spending has been under pressure from record-high household debt and sluggish wage growth, one reason some investors believe the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) could now consider cutting interest rates from an all-time low of 1.50 percent.

Calls from some analysts for the RBA to ease policy has intensified in recent weeks as unwelcome economic news at home and abroad are challenging policymakers’ dogged optimism on growth and their insistence the next move in interest rates will be up.

The RBA is all but certain to leave policy unchanged at its first meeting of 2019 later on Tuesday after sitting on the fence since August 2016.

Futures markets imply around a 50-50 chance of a cut by the end of the year, a remarkable turnaround from just a couple of months ago when investors were positioned for a rate hike.

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