The supposed experts in the game of analysing what is happening in the Australian economy were of the opinion that retail sales in February were down a modest half a percent. That was the median of the 18 economists surveyed by Bloomberg — how wrong they were proved to be this morning when the Australian Bureau of Statistics published its official figure showing a drop in seasonally adjusted terms of a full two percentage points!
Leave aside the month most influenced by the introduction of the GST and we have to go back to April 1997 to find the same sized drop and to May 1983 to find a bigger one (2.5%).
What appears to have happened is that consumers who brought forward some spending when they received a bonus payment from the government back in December have now retreated from the shops.
The ABS reports that the industries with the biggest seasonally adjusted increases in December 2008 have had the largest decreases over the last two months:
Department stores increased by 8.3% in December 2008 and decreased by 0.5% and 9.8% in January and February 2009, respectively.
Clothing and soft good retailing increased by 5.8% in December 2008 and 0.8% in January 2009 and decreased by 2.7% in February.
Household good retailing increased by 9.9% in December 2008 and decreased by 4.0% and 3.8% in January and February 2009, respectively.