Retail sales up 0.3% in March, Shares slump again: Economy Roundup

Retail sales increased by a seasonally adjusted 0.3% during March to $19.917 billion, according to official figures released today.

The increase follows a 1.2% fall in February and a 0.9% increase in January.

Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services recorded the highest increase in spending at 0.4% in trend times, followed by other retailing at 0.3% and department stores at 0.3%.

However, household goods retailing fell by 0.3%, clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing dropped by 0.2%, while food retailing fell by 0.1%.

The Northern Territory recorded the largest increase in trade at 0.6%, followed by Western Australia at 0.5%, the Australian Capital Territory at 0.4%, with Victoria and South Australia following at 0.1% each.

New South Wales trade decreased by 0.2%, Queensland trade fell by 0.1% while Tasmania trade also dropped by 0.1%.

Meanwhile, the seasonally adjusted balance on goods and services was a deficit of $2.08 billion during March, an increase of $381 million from the revised deficit in February.

Goods and services credits rose 2% to $20.4 billion, with non-monetary gold rising 34%, rural goods rising 2% and services credits rising 1%.

Goods and services debits rose by 3% to $22.5 billion, with intermediate and other merchandise goods rising 10%, non-monetary gold rising 27%, capital goods rising 2% and services debits increasing by $11 million.

Department store Myer has said it is cautious about the second half of the year, but is still confident about delivering its guidance. Chairman Howard McDonald said in a statement to shareholders that reduced stimulus payments could affect sales.

“We are cautious about the outlook for sales during the second half of this financial year, as we cycle the second and more significant Federal Government stimulus package and the potential of further interest rate rises,” McDonald said.

“However, given the strength of our earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) performance in the first half, and the ongoing benefits that we are leveraging from our investments to turnaround our business, we remain confident of delivering our 2010 Prospectus forecast for EBIT growth of 10.7% to $261 million.”

Shares slump as Greek debt worries continue

The Australian sharemarket has opened lower once again today, after fears over Greek’s debt problems have continued to permeate through financial markets worldwide.

The benchmark ASX200 index had plummeted 86 points or 1.81% to 4589.3 at 12.10 AEST, while the Australian dollar has continued its decline to US90c.

ANZ shares have declined 5.7% to $22.74, while Commonwealth Bank shares have lost 3.7% to $54.77. NAB lost 2.6% to $26.08 as Westpac lost 4.8% to $24.94.

NAB has recorded an 8.2% increase in first-half cash earnings to $2.19 billion for the six months ending March 31, up from $2.03 billion during the previous corresponding period.

“We have taken some important steps that we believe are necessary to ensure our businesses are successful in the post global financial crisis environment,” NAB chief executive Cameron Clyne said in a statement. “The next wave of growth will clearly be business demand.”

Sims Metal Management has said it expects earnings to grow in the last quarter of the financial year despite recording a 31% decline in sales for the three previous quarters ending March 31.

“We are encouraged by our third quarter results and have built momentum heading into the close of our fiscal 2010,” Sims chief executive Daniel Dienst has said in a statement.

“While scrap intake increased by only 3% as compared to the second quarter, we are seeing significantly improved scrap flows in our fourth quarter, particularly in North America.”

Oil giant Santos has said the Government’s new 40% tax on mining profits threatens the country’s finances and the resources sector in general.

“Australia has been an attractive investment option for international oil and gas companies… but this should not be taken for granted,” chairman Peter Coates said in a statement.

“Our stable fiscal regime has been important but is now threatened by the Government’s response to the Henry Tax Review. Australian resources companies already face heavy taxation rates by international standards.”

Pallet manufacturer Brambles has maintained its guidance for the rest of the year, saying it expects sales revenue in line with the last financial year.

“Our comparable trading performance is gradually improving,” chief executive officer Tom Gormon said in a statement.

“In the three months ended March 2010, group sales revenue rose 1% compared with the prior corresponding period, with growth in all business units except CHEP Americas.

“Brambles remains well-placed to benefit from broad-based recovery when it occurs and continues to focus on pursuing profitable growth opportunities.”

European debt problems continue

In Europe, three people have been killed in riots in Greece as the country prepares for massive spending cuts in order to pay down its debt. European leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel and the French Government, have said the financial viability of all of Europe is at stake if the problem is not under control.

Greece has accepted a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, but investors are still worried about the country’s debt troubles.

In the United States, stocks have fallen once again as investors seek refuge from Greece’s debt problems. Moody’s has issued a warning regarding Portugal’s credit rating, prompting fears that the crisis could extended well beyond Europe.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 58.65 points or 0.54% to 10,868.12.

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