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
- The Commonwealth Bank Business Sales Indicator (BSI) is calculated by tracking the value of credit and debit card transactions processed through Commonwealth Bank merchant facilities throughout Australia.
- The BSI has been devised to provide a monthly assessment of spending trends in the Australian economy (covering 19 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. The BSI is tracked in seasonally adjusted and trend terms. The overall BSI is measured in both seasonally adjusted and trend terms while state/territory and industry data are measured using the less volatile ‘trend’ approach. The seasonally adjusted and trend estimates of the BSI results are derived via the SEASABS statistical program from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
- The monthly BSI 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 only cover spending at retail establishments, and exclude spending at a raft of other businesses.
- The BSI includes transactions made at traditional retail establishments such as supermarkets, clothing stores, cafes and restaurants and as such is more comparable to the ABS Household Final Consumption Expenditure, which is released on a quarterly basis. The BSI 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 BSI includes industry sectors based on the International Merchant Category Code (IMCC) categories. MCC is a four-digit number assigned to a business when the business first starts accepting cards as a form of payment.