Australian retailing remains in the doldrums with a seasonally adjusted rise of just 0.1% in the three months to September, according to quarterly retail trade figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics today.

The release is the first strictly comparable seasonally adjusted figures released since the ABS started a new retail trade series in July with a smaller sample. The ABS has decided to revert to its broader sample-based series from early next year after complaints from users about the lack of accuracy in the new series.

The monthly series produced a seasonally adjusted reading of a fall of 1.1% based on the smaller sample when released last week.

The ABS said retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 0.1% in the quarter, compared with a fall of 0.2% in the June quarter. That was worse than the optimistic 0.4% rise from market economists before the release.

The Reserve Bank started its current rate cuts in September with a 0.25% trim which was followed up by 1% in October and 0.75% this month as the global economy worsened dramatically.

Minutes for the RBA’s November 4 meeting will be released tomorrow and the ABS releases October car sales figures the day after.

Like in so many other economies, the September quarter and the month of September were sluggish, but activity collapsed in October as the failure of Lehman Bros sent an enormous jolt through markets and badly damaged consumer confidence.

Retail sales in September in the US fell by around 1.3% and then by a record 2.8% last month. Our retail sector isn’t that devastated, but the likes of Harvey Norman and Clive Peeters have reported declines in same store sales in the past month to six weeks. Excluding cars and petrol (both out of our retail data), the US saw a fall of 2.2% in October, itself a record as well.

The ABS said sales at clothing stores rose 1.6% in the third quarter and food sales gained half a per cent; cafes and restaurant sales dropped 1.8% as the slowdown and higher petrol prices forced consumers to cut back on non-essential spending.

The Federal Government’s $10.4 billion spending package will start appearing from December 8. There is already money being made available for first home buyers, but that won’t be taken up until late this month or into December.

Peter Fray

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