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Retail Sales: Nation Gets Handy

In the bizarre days of March leading up to the more bizarre month of April, Australians hoarded, stocked-up and spent a massive 8.5% more on retail sales than they did in February. The absolutely unprecedented (there is that word again) sales ultimately took no one by surprise, and respectfully, no one was especially shocked to see that one of the sectors that performed best was the Hardware. Building and Garden Supplies sector (+17.4%).

All the fancy charts we can provide aside, the chart below shows retail sales in March, in all their glory.


Fig. 10

To go straight to the dashboard and take a closer look at the data, click here.

Some sectors did not fare as well as others in the mad March rush to buy up the nation’s supplies. We know toilet paper manufacturer’s did better than okay for example, and so too did the food producers, at least for domestic sales.

However, our own areas of interest did not fare equally well. As the chart here shows, the Hardware, Building and Garden Supplies sector rocketed a massive 17.9% compared to February as the nation decided it was handy, got ready for Easter and school holidays at home and finally got round to that long overdue job. It did not hurt that builder’s pulled work forward wherever possible, of course.


Fig. 11

To go straight to the dashboard and take a closer look at the data, click here.

But March was a shocker for the Furniture, Floor Coverings and Homewares sector (-4.8%) as the old couch got dusted down, the floor was sanded and not replaced and discretionary purchases for the household simply slowed to a crawl.

Speaking to The Age on 4th May, economist Andrew Charlton (an advisor to PM Kevin Rudd during the GFC) from the analytics firm AlphaBeta provided the warning about retail spending to come, saying:

“So far we haven’t heard an avalanche of bad economic news but were about to go into a period when we do.

“If people hear more and more negative stories, especially about unemployment, that can affect confidence.”

Charlton’s comments were backed up by his own evidence, shown in the chart below. The original stimulus money allowed retail sales to flatline after the hoarding period, but once the stimulus had washed through, the decline in retail sales really kicked in. Hardest hit? No prizes for guessing its discretionary spending.


Fig. 12

Where the cascading retail sales will end is anyone’s guess. Relaxed social distancing measures may add a little to retail sales, but we would not be putting money on that just yet.

Posted Date: May 11, 2020

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