Cashless Retail Sales Index: January 2022

Consumers started 2022 in an understated fashion, following some big swings in late 2021.

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Highlights

  • Our data mapping points to a subdued start to 2022 for Australia’s retail sector. We see the official ABS measure gaining 0.3% on a month-on-month basis, having fallen 4.4% in December.
  • Late 2021 saw a post-lockdown rebound followed by weakness in December as the Omicron wave began to take hold. Our weekly tracking data showed tough conditions in early January but more recent high frequency data show conditions improving.
  • There is considerable performance variation between retail industries. Hospitality saw a substantial downturn in January (we see the ABS measure off more than 5%), while other sectors (except food) improved on the month prior. With omicron cases now declining across much of the country, it is possible that hospitality will see an uptick, however this depends on consumer sentiment amid ongoing covid transmission.

NAB Chief Economist, Alan Oster commented

Consumers started 2022 in an understated fashion, following some big swings in late 2021. However, the challenges for retail remain generally less severe than some reports suggested in early January.

The NAB Monthly Business Survey for January, released yesterday, recorded a big hit for retail business conditions. That said, overall business confidence returned to positive levels (+3, from -12 in December). Confidence tends to lead conditions, suggesting that business conditions could improve in February. Whether this flows through to retail – and particularly hospitality – remains to be seen.

Labour availability continues to be a challenge for many retail businesses, although anecdotally this seems to have eased somewhat, reflecting lower omicron case numbers in the second half of January. Inflationary pressures continue to seep into the survey, with purchase costs up 3.4% at a quarterly rate in January, with retail prices up 1.3% on the same basis. We will continue to closely monitor retail price trends through 2022.

For more information, please see the NAB Cashless Retail Sales Index (January 2022)