A shocker Christmas: Retail slides 0.5% in December as traders brace for a rough 2020


The verdict is in: Australia’s retail sector had a shocker Christmas last year.

Dashing hopes that Aussie shopping strips and malls may have eked something to write home about last December, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures published Thursday reveal total turnover fell 0.5% month-on-month.

Spending inched higher on last year, up 2.65% to $27.7 billion, but much this was slower than the 10-year average 3.3% growth.

Most of the major categories went backwards after a strong showing in November, driven by profit-busting Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

Department store spending fell 2.8% month-on-month, while clothing, footwear and personal accessories was down 1.5%, providing some quantitative context to the recent collapses of Harris Scarfe, Bardot, Jeanswest and Collette by Collette Hayman.

Even typically downturn-resistant food spending suffered amid the impact of the bushfire crisis on communities across the country, with spending at cafes, restaurants and takeaway shops down 0.9% and food retailing slipping 0.3%.

“The December fall comes after a strong November, led by Black Friday sales” ABS director of quarterly economy-wide surveys Ben James said in a statement circulated Thursday.

“There were also some effects from bushfires and associated smoke haze apparent in New South Wales data. Specifically, food retailing and cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services were negatively impacted.”

December quarter volumes point to a bright spot, recording a 0.5% rise (seasonally adjusted), regaining some ground after a 0.1% fall in the September quarter.

But that’s mincing biscuits; the headline sales decline in December was much worse than market expectations of a 0.2% drop and comes as prominent retail executives warn of a difficult year ahead, with the fallout from bushfires and even the coronavirus weighing on confidence.

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