Retail sales surge, but outbreak lingers

Steven Deare
(Australian Associated Press)


Retail sales surged by seven per cent in November, but border restrictions and other measures due to a Sydney virus outbreak could reduce retailers’ December joy.

Victorians were largely responsible for the sizeable improvement on October trade, according to seasonally-adjusted data published on Tuesday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Victoria’s retail sales grew by 21 per cent after many shops re-opened in late October from months of onerous coronavirus restrictions.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions across the country also helped boost trade.

Yet a coronavirus cluster originating in Sydney, which has spawned 90 infections, may limit sales at retailers’ favourite time of year.

Many holidaymakers have had plans scuttled as most states and territories require people from Sydney or NSW to isolate on arrival. The Western Australian government has blocked them from entering.

There are also travel and gathering limits for the residents of Australia’s most populous city.

CommSec senior economist Ryan Felsman said the outbreak would be of huge concern to retailers.

He said department stores and fashion outlets could have fewer visitors as people isolate.

The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index fell two per cent this week, and by more than five per cent in Sydney.

NAB director of economics Tapas Strickland said if the outbreak can be contained, there is likely to be only a mild impact on retail sales.

A comparable example may be Adelaide, which had a three-day lockdown last month due to a virus cluster.

South Australia had little change to its November retail sales result. The ABS did not provide a figure as part of its preliminary figures.

Australian retail sales for the month were 13.2 per cent more than the same month last year.

While this might seem remarkable given virus restrictions on trade, it is because the ABS retail sales survey does not include sectors hit hard by the pandemic such as travel and pubs and clubs.

The bureau will publish its final monthly estimate for November on January 11.


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