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Economy-wide spending fell in March, continuing the slowdown of recent months, according to the latest monthly Commonwealth Bank Business Sales Indicator (BSI).
The BSI fell by 0.7 per cent in trend terms in March following small falls in February and January, which contrasts to the solid trend growth rates of between 0.6-0.8 per cent per month from February to September 2015.
While sales growth has been softening recently, the fall in March may reflect the early timing of Easter, which had its earliest occurrence in eight years.
The spending slowdown may also reflect uncertainty among consumers in the lead up to an election.
The annual growth of spending eased from 5.6 per cent to 4.0 per cent in March. This compares with the healthy levels of annual growth between 7.2 and 7.6 per cent between April and November 2015.
The seasonally-adjusted measure of sales fell by 1.8 per cent in March after falling by 1.7 per cent in February and rising by 0.1 per cent in January.
Craig James, Chief Economist, CommSec, said that this latest result should be interpreted with care due to the extra day in February and early timing of Easter, which may not be adequately reflected in the trend and seasonally adjusted results.
“Spending has been largely flat so far in 2016, but one-off factors appear to have influenced the BSI in March such as the Easter holiday break.
“Nevertheless, there are some positive signs still showing through the economy, with interest rates continuing to remain at record lows and good employment figures, so we could see the BSI return to positive territory soon,” Mr James said.
While spending growth slowed across most of the sectors, spending lifted 0.3 per cent at Hotels & Motels in March – the 39th consecutive month of gains. Spending at Miscellaneous Stores also increased for the 56th consecutive month.
In annual terms in March, just five of the 19 industry sectors contracted including Mail Order/Telephone Order Providers, Airlines, and Amusement & Entertainment.
At the other end of the scale, sectors with strongest annual growth in March included: Hotels & Motels (up 16.4 per cent), Government Services (up 13.3 per cent), and Miscellaneous Stores (up 11.4 per cent).
Sales rose in just two of the eight states and territories in March: NSW (up 0.2 per cent) and South Australia (up 0.1 per cent). Sales fell in Victoria (down 2.3 per cent), ACT (down 0.6 per cent), Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia (all down 0.4 per cent).
In annual terms only Victoria had sales below a year ago (down 3.0 per cent). Strongest growth was in Tasmania (up 9.3 per cent), from ACT (up 6.6 per cent), Western Australia (up 6.5 per cent), NSW (up 6.4 per cent), Northern Territory (up 4.7 per cent), South Australia (up 4.5 per cent) and Queensland (up 3.7 per cent).
The BSI is a key measure of economy-wide spending, tracking the value of credit and debit card transactions processed through Commonwealth Bank point-of-sale terminals.
Find out more about the latest Commonwealth Bank Business Sales Indicator
About the Commonwealth Bank Business Sales Indicator