Despite ongoing weakness, positive signs for business

EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01 hours 20 December 2010: Despite continued negative spending growth, conditions are looking more positive for Australian businesses, according to the latest Commonwealth Bank Business Sales Indicator (BSI) released today.

The BSI, which tracks the value of credit and debit card transactions processed through Commonwealth Bank point-of-sale terminals, fell for the 12th straight month in November however also revealed that weakness was concentrated in a small number of industry sectors.

According to Matt Comyn, Executive General Manager, Local Business Banking, Commonwealth Bank, the latest findings show that there are good grounds for optimism as 2010 draws to a close.

“We’ve seen the size of the declines recorded by the BSI consistently narrowing over the past six months,” said Mr Comyn.

“Encouragingly, the 0.1 per cent fall in November was the smallest decline recorded in 2010, something that is positive news for retailers. Interestingly, the utilities sector dragged down the BSI in November and this can actually mask wider trends being seen throughout businesses in Australia. In fact if utilities are excluded, the BSI actually lifted by 0.7 per cent in trend terms in November – the strongest reading for 15 months.”

Craig James, Chief Economist of the Bank’s broking subsidiary CommSec and author of the BSI, said that another source of encouragement in the latest data is the fact that the majority of industry sectors recorded spending growth in trend terms.

“In trend terms, the value of spending transactions fell in only six of the 20 industries in November,” said Mr James.

“There were some standout performers among the sectors, with Retail stores recording the strongest growth rate in 14 months, up by 0.9 per cent. In addition, a raft of other sectors are also showing improving growth trends, including the 0.4 per cent trend growth at clothing stores which was the best reading in 19 months.”

Industry analysis – strong movement across the board

Across the industry sectors, Miscellaneous stores (up 1.1 per cent) recorded the strongest monthly gain followed by Professional services and membership organizations (both up 1.0 per cent) and Amusement & entertainment and Retail stores (both up by 0.9 per cent).

The weakest sectors in November in trend terms were Wholesale Distributors & manufacturers and Mail order & telephone order providers (both down 0.3 per cent), with the latter sector also the weakest performer on an annual basis, down 18.3 per cent on a year earlier. Hotels and motels also slipped in November, down by 0.2 per cent. While six sectors contracted in the latest month, the size of the declines in all cases was very modest.

Personal service providers (which includes laundries, hairdressers, shoe repair shops and tax agents) remained the star performer in annual terms, continuing its positive trajectory from October and now up 8.2 per cent on a year ago.

State / Territory analysis – spending slows in three of the eight states

Continuing the trend seen in October’s figures, only three of the eight states and territories recorded negative monthly trend growth in November, led once again by Queensland which was down by 0.6 per cent. This was followed by South Australia (down 0.5 per cent) and Victoria (down 0.3 per cent). All three States also made up the worst performers seen in last month’s BSI.

Spending rose most in the Northern Territory (up 1.1 per cent), followed by New South Wales (up 0.6 per cent), Western Australia (up 0.4 per cent), Tasmania (up 0.3 per cent) and the Australian Capital Territory (up 0.2 per cent).

In annual terms, the only state/territory to record growth in November was Western Australia (up 1.7 per cent). At the other end of the scale, the spending gauge was weakest in Victoria (down 7.2 per cent) followed by South Australia (down 7.2 per cent) and Northern Territory (down 6.9 per cent).

“The latest BSI is definitely painting a brighter picture for the Australian economy and there is now light at the end of the tunnel for Australian retailers,” said Mr James. “All eyes will be on the sector to see if the festive season brings with it some much needed cheer as we move into the New Year.”

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About the Commonwealth Bank Business Sales Indicator

  • The Commonwealth Bank Business Sales Indicator is calculated by tracking the value of credit and debit card transactions processed through Commonwealth Bank merchant facilities throughout Australia (approximately 30 – 40 per cent of the market).
  • The Business Sales Indicator has been devised to provide a monthly assessment of spending trends in the Australian economy (covering 20 industry sectors and all Australian states and territories) and is available to the public on the Bank’s website and to the media on or around the 20th day of each month.
  • Credit and debit card transactions can be volatile on a month-to-month basis, affected by seasonal and irregular factors. To better gauge the direction and changes of spending across the economy, the Business Sales Indicator is tracked in trend terms.
  • The monthly Business Sales Indicator has been devised to provide a more timely assessment of spending trends in the economy. The main monthly indicator of spending in the economy is the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Retail Trade release. However these statistics cover just spending at retail establishments, and exclude spending at a raft of other businesses.
  • The Business Sales Indicator includes transactions made at traditional retail establishments such as supermarkets, clothing stores and cafes & restaurants and as such is more comparable to the ABS Household Final Consumption Expenditure released on a quarterly basis. The Business Sales Indicator also covers businesses such as airlines, car dealers and utilities such as water and electricity companies as well as motels, business, professional and government services and wholesalers.
  • The Business Sales Indicator includes industry sectors based on the International Merchant Category Code (MCC) categories. MCC is a four-digit number assigned to a business when the business first starts accepting cards as a form of payment. Refer to Table 1 for the MCC listing.

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