Australia retail sales extend losing stretch to a third quarter

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australian retail sales volumes fell again in the June quarter as cost of living pressures and rising borrowing costs ate into consumer spending power, hampering economic growth and weakening the case for further interest rate hikes.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday showed real retail sales fell 0.5% in the second quarter to A$35.2 billion ($23.02 billion), matching analyst forecasts.

That was the third straight quarter of declines, a losing streak that has only happened once before – in the run up to the global financial crisis in 2008.

Sales were also down 1.4% compared to the June quarter of last year. Outside of the pandemic, the last time that happened was in the recession of 1991.

Falls were seen in sales of food, eating out, household goods and department stores.

“The widespread fall in sales volumes reflects what retailers have been telling us about consumers focusing on essentials, buying less or switching to cheaper brands,” said Ben Dorber, ABS head of retail statistics.

Since sales account for around 17% of gross domestic product, the drop will weigh on economic activity and analysts expect barely any growth in the quarter.

The weakness in spending was a major reason the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) this week decided to keep interest rates unchanged at 4.1% for a second month, the longest pause since it began tightening in May last year.

Policymakers did caution that another hike might be needed to ensure inflation continued to slow, leaving markets implying around a 50-50 chance of one further rise to 4.35% by year end. [AU/INT]

“With recent data showing a clear trend of easing inflation and slower demand growth, the probability that 4.1% is the peak for the cycle is growing,” said Alan Oster, group chief economist at NAB.

“However, given the upside pressures on inflation, the near-term risk on rates remains clearly to the upside,” added Oster, who expects one final hike in November.

Thursday’s data showed retail prices rose 0.9% in the second quarter, up from 0.7% the previous quarter.

Australia’s international trade performance is at least faring better, with its surplus widening to A$11.3 billion in June as imports of cars fell after a couple of strong months.

While prices for many of the country’s commodity exports have been slipping, volumes looked to have risen solidly in the June quarter and should make a much-needed contribution to economic growth.

($1 = 1.5291 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman & Simon Cameron-Moore)