24 May 2021

Sales figures ease double-dip recession fears

4:35 pm on 24 May 2021

Consumers rediscovered the shopping urge at the start of the year, and it should be sufficient to help the economy avoid dipping back into recession.

Christmas shopping in Wellington.

Shoppers splurged $26.4 billion in the three months ended March, according to Stats NZ figures. (File image) Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The latest Stats NZ figures show retail sales volumes, which exclude price movements, rose 2.5 percent in the three months ended March on the previous quarter, when they fell 2.7 percent.

Stats NZ said shoppers splurged $26.4 billion during the quarter, with notable increases for electrical and electronic items, recreational goods, and building and garden products.

Westpac senior economist Satish Ranchhod said retail spending had been resilient since the economy exited lockdown, even in the absence of international tourists.

"Spending appetites have been buoyed by the low level of interest rates, strength in the housing market and diversion of spending previously earmarked for overseas holidays back into the local economy," Ranchhod said.

"We expect spending will continue to firm over the coming months. However, compared to pre-Covid trends, spending growth is likely to be constrained by the continued lack of international tourists and the slowdown in population growth."

The biggest fall was in fuel retailing, down 2.2 percent, with smaller falls for online and pharmaceutical sales.

Most economists have been picking a flat first three months of economic activity, with the risk that there would be a slight contraction, which when added to the 1.0 percent fall in the final quarter of last year would have meant two consecutive quarters of negative growth, meeting the definition of a recession.

"All up, today's data add to our level of confidence that the New Zealand economy will avoid a double dip technical recession over Q4 2020 and Q1 2021 - as some have been forecasting," said ANZ senior economist Miles Workman.

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