Retail sales jump in March, Westpac profit hit by bad debts, David Jones on track: Economy roundup

Retail sales have risen by a seasonally adjusted 2.2% in March in a higher-than-expected result, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.


The large gain follows a 2% decrease in February, and a 0.5% increase in January.


All retail industries experienced gains, with food retailing increasing 0.4%, department stores 13.2%, clothing and soft good retailing 6.4%, and housing good retailing 1.3%.


Restaurants and takeaway food gained 1.4%, while retailing categorised as “other” jumped by 1.5%. All states except for the Australian Capital Territory experienced seasonally adjusted gains in sales, with the Northern Territory leading the charge with a 4.2% increase.


Retail chains and other large retailers increased by 13.9%, with small retailers increasing by 9.5%.


Bank gains


Westpac shares have jumped over 2% after the bank announced a 6% decline in half-year profit on a “pro-forma” basis, saying the lender has been hit by the deteriorating economy. The bank’s results include the recently acquired St George institution. 


Cash profit rose 6% to $2.3 billion, just below analsyts’ expectations of a profit of $2.4 billion.

“Looking ahead, while we expect system credit growth to continue slowing, our strong franchise and multiple brands should position us favourably to achieve further market share gains,” chief executive Gail Kelly said in a statement.

“Conditions for markets income are also expected to remain favourable given continued market volatility and a customer preference for dealing with strong, AA rated, banks.”

“That said, the very strong market revenues delivered in the first half 2009 are unlikely to be repeated.”


Shares flat


The Australian sharemarket has opened higher today despite negative leads from Wall Street overnight, but has fallen throughout the morning. The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was down 34.1 points or 0.9% to 3856.3 at 12.10 AEST.


The Australian dollar has also reached a new seven-month high at US74.8 cents.


NAB shares gained 1.4% to $22.06, while ANZ lifted 1.5% to $16.79 and Woolworths gained 0.3% to $26.33.


Retailers struggle


Retail giant Harvey Norman has told the ASX that there is no explanation for a sudden 15.2% rise in its share price. The company was questioned after its shares rose to a high of $3.41 on 5 May.


“The company is not aware of any information concerning it that has not been announced which, if known, could be an explanation for recent trading in the securities of the company,” Harvey said in a statement.


Department store giant David Jones said it is prepared to announce profit growth of nearly 5% this financial year after good sales in April, but announced a 9.2% drop in sales to just $411.6 million in the third quarter.


“We are well positioned, despite the difficult macro economic environment, to deliver zero to 5% profit after tax growth in 2008-09, and to return excess cash to shareholders in the most efficient manner over time,” chief executive Mark McInnes said in a statement.


“We have a proven business model and management team and are well positioned to continue our track record (since 2003) of delivering year-on-year profit growth.


“We have a strong balance sheet, low debt levels, we own our flagship Sydney and Melbourne CBD store properties, our alliance with American Express is performing strongly, and we are diligently and tightly managing our costs, inventory and capital expenditure.”


In the US, Wall Street dropped as investors became anxious about the results of “stress tests” being conducted on major banks that are to be released on Thursday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 16.09 points or 0.19% to 8410.65.




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