Crikey Clarifier

Jul 14, 2011

Crikey Clarifier: why aren’t we confident to shop?

Late yesterday department store David Jones shocked investors by announcing its second-half profits could slide by as much as 12%. So in a stable economy why aren't we confident enough to spend?

Late yesterday department store David Jones shocked investors by announcing its second-half profits could slide by as much as 12%. Today Myer followed suit, reconfirming profit downgrades up to 5% lower than last year's takings. The announcements come amid the release of the latest Westpac-Melbourne Institute survey, which shows consumer confidence falling to recessionary levels. Crikey spoke to Westpac chief economist Bill Evans for clarification. What's driving the fall in consumer sentiment? There's a whole range of reasons for the fall. Some of the biggest are anxieties about the carbon tax, concerns about global financial instability, and the aftermath of aggressive interest rate rises. Consumers are also seeing gradual reductions in house prices, so their major source of income is falling. There have also been concerns about the European financial crisis, the barrage of bad news about the US economy, and the situation in Japan. Why is the retail sector being hit particularly hard? Consumers are the customers. They are the ones that are doing the buying, so if they are tightening their wallets, retailers will quickly feel the consequences. What other industries will be affected? The impact of low consumer sentiment on other areas of the economy is both direct and indirect. When consumers slow their spending there will be a spillover into the housing market, people will start spending less on things like transport, and we will also see people spending less on recreational outings in things like restaurants. How are consumer sentiment surveys conducted? People are asked a series of five questions: 1) Their assessment of their current family finances; 2) Their assessment of their finances over the coming 12 months; 3) Their outlook of the economic conditions in Australia over the next 12 months; 4) Their outlook of the Australian economic conditions over the next five years; 5) Whether it is considered a good or bad time to buy a major household item. How accurate are these surveys? Measuring consumer confidence is not like measuring an election result, you can't determine the figures that accurately, but in terms of spending there is a broad relation between consumer confidence polls and consumer behaviour. These figures are the lead indicator. What can we expect of consumer confidence in the near future? The thing about this result is that a big fall in consumer confidence is usually associated with a knee-jerk reaction to a big event. This wasn't the case this time; there wasn't any major event and that is the disturbing thing. Usually you'll get some recovery from a knee-jerk reaction. However, we may see some recovery in the figures after initial reactions to the carbon tax details, but I can't be certain. The problem is that the biggest fall in confidence came from high-income areas, and they are not getting much compensation from the tax.

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11 thoughts on “Crikey Clarifier: why aren’t we confident to shop?

  1. Rodger

    Andrew; “Consumers are also seeing gradual reductions in house prices, so their major source of income is falling.”This makes no sense.

  2. [email protected]

    Sorry but it’s misleading to accept the commentary of the current CEO of David Jones as to the current profit warning.
    Leaving aside the question of whether department stores will go the way of newspapers there should be some real soul searching in the company as to the products and services offered to consumers.It seems to me that you are offered exactly the same products in almost every mall and department store in the country ,at prices which do not bear comparison to prices for similar goods overseas.It will be interesting to see whether the new entrant Zara which has more individual lines at much more affordable prices will need to recut profit forecasts.Also DJs might want to consider the impact of outsourcing it’s home brand credit card to a big overseas card provider -certainly consumers are not fools and will appreciate that there may be differences in the card offering ..Westfield ,well the good thing about Westfield consistency i.e. Same shops products and services everywhere on the globe may well prove it’s undoing,If retailers want to survive the population of online shopping they have to go back to the drawing board and consider exactly what consumers want and find a way to deliver it.To keep pushing the same proposition and blaming the government,or anything other than second rate management is an exercise in self delusion.

  3. Mark Heydon

    A few points:
    1. I don’t believe sales volumes have actually fallen. There might be the odd month that has shown a small decrease on 12 months prior, but generally we are only talking about a moderation in the rates of growth.

    2. I don’t know about DJs, but Myer could probably help themselves by having more than 1 or 2 sales staff per floor.

    3. Over the past 2 or 3 years I have increasingly bypassed the major retailers by buying direct over the internet. This has accelerated over the past year or so with the increase in the Aussie dollar leading to much cheaper AUD prices being available from overseas websites. Judging by the response to the series Bernard Keane had on the differential in price between Australian based bricks and mortar retailers and overseas internet based retailers, as well as the evidence from everyone I know, I am not alone on this.
    I wonder how much this has contributed to DJ’s and Myer’s sales woes, both by direct substitution of what formerly might have been a sale for DJs or Myer now being a sale for an internet retailer, as well as the increased competition leading to some passing on of the benefit of the higher AUD by the retailers.

    4. I saw the DJs CEO reported as having blamed the Gillard government’s “string of tax increases” for the worsening result, then going on to name the Flood levy – which only started being paid last week – and the carbon tax, which won’t be paid until July 2012! More likely it is the irresponsible fear-mongering of Tony Abbott, urged on by the media, which is causing the loss of consumer confidence.

  4. tinman_au

    “More likely it is the irresponsible fear-mongering of Tony Abbott, urged on by the media, which is causing the loss of consumer confidence.”

    That’s the exact point I was going to make. It’s pretty difficult for consumers to be “confident” when Tony is so busy pointing out how “bad” everything is. In fact it’s almost irresponsible of him…

  5. zut alors

    I agree with Tinman, if you’re repetitively told you’re financially up Sh!t Creek you’ll eventually start to believe it and rein in the spending.

  6. zut alors

    I agree with Tinman, if you’re repetitively told you’re financially up Sh!t Creek you’ll eventually start to believe it and rein in the spending.

    Mark Heydon also makes a valid point: I am fed up with trying to find sales assistants at either DJs or Myer. The stock is sitting on the floor but a diminishing number of staff are available to take our money. Doesn’t make good business sense.

  7. Michael Fisher

    The downturn in consumer spending is primarily being driven by general credit tightening by banks since the GFC. People have over past years financed excessive consumption not by their incomes but by regularly refinancing their mortgages (through increased property values) to pay for excess consumption. With banks now more cautious in their lending practices (days of 105% financing of residential property has disappeared) together with falling property values the capacity of consumers to fund consumption through increased borrowing has diminished significantly. Plenty of stories previously of people racking up large credit card debts and then approaching banks to provide additional mortgage funds that were then used to pay off the credit card, only to do the same thing again and again. I often marvelled at the level of consumption of some friends and acquaintances when compared to their comparitive income levels. No more debt funded consumption now, this is the major driver behind lower levels of consumption, not the internet or carbon tax. The loss of consumer confidence has been dented by the capacity of the individual to now go to the bank for a bailout for past excesses.

  8. AR

    Work, Consume, Be Silent & Die was 3/4 quoted here recently. Could it simply be that we/most of us just have too many toys already and can’t fit anymore cheap crap into our Mcmansions or rented hovels?
    I note that spending on food hasn’t dropped and, NO, excruciatingly trendy eateries don’t count as food spending.
    The less crap we buy, even had we the space to store the stuff – who actually uses half the rubbish they buy during intense courses of retail therapy? – the better the quality of life and maybe, just maybe, people might realise that there is a reality beyond consumerism.
    Colour me, CCL or DGaF.

  9. trisha rogers

    I agree with AR how many things do we need in our cupboards, after years on the treadmill I no longer see the need to keep buying stuff. I would rather spend my time doing something that has true meaning and whatever money I have supporting those organisations who are creating products and services that we truly need.

  10. Barbara Latham

    Myer & DJ’s have low sales because they persist in using Skinny models with long legs, long waists & long necks.
    If they ever bother to cater to normal Australian women, who average 165-170 cm in height, do not have long legs, long waists, nor stretch necks like human giraffes, only then will their sales figures improve. This does not mean large floral shapeless sacks in giant sizes either!

    So many female shoppers are fed up with the failure of Myer & DJ’s to stock clothing and fashion items for real women.

    Women want to buy, we have the money, but cannot find department stores willing to supply the sizes and shapes required.

    There is a reason all the Sale racks have only sizes 10 & 12 on them – we want sizes 14, 16 & 18 which always sell out first as there isn’t enough stock supplied.
    Wake up & smell the money.

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