NAB Cashless Retail Sales Index: July 2020

Our internal data point to a moderate decline in July, having stabilised at a surprisingly buoyant level after the rollercoaster earlier this year.

By

This month we continue our podcast series to accompany the NAB Cashless Retail Sales Index. It’s a short, 10 minute podcast, designed to give you a quick summary of the major drivers of the index this month. Listen to the full podcast now. If listening on a mobile device, click listen in browser.

Highlights

  • Our data mapping points to a moderate (by 2020 standards) fall in July in ABS retail trade, with a -0.7% headline month-on-month forecast. This follows a decent result in July (+2.7% m/m, although our forecast was -2.8% at the time) and massive swings in March, April and May.
  • Our data mapping equations have struggled to process the simply unprecedented swings we have seen this year in Australian retail sales. While recent data have brought relative stability, as recent events in Victoria show, virus outbreaks have the potential to derail the retail sector.
  • While retail sales have outperformed so far, partial data suggest that the economic recovery lost some steam in July and that the Victorian stage 4 restrictions will see a further deterioration. We expect that there will be a prolonged period of higher unemployment and current government policy will see lower government assistance from Q4. These factors will be a challenge for retail sales.

NAB Chief Economist, Alan Oster commented:

Our internal data point to a moderate decline in July, having stabilised at a surprisingly buoyant level after the rollercoaster earlier this year. There is considerable divergence in the performance of retail subsectors. Food, household goods, department stores are other retailing have all outperformed this year, while (perhaps unsurprisingly) clothing and footwear and cafes restaurants and takeaways have been much weaker, only just recovering the massive ground they lost earlier this year.

The stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne mandate the closure of much of the city’s retail sector and will likely hit the August figures (and beyond), but the real unknown is how consumers outside Victoria will respond in the coming months. The July NAB Monthly Business Survey showed a resilience in business conditions but consumers are likely to continue to face great pressure. Higher unemployment and a forthcoming reduction in government support later this year will be a challenge for retail spending.

For more information, please see the NAB Cashless Retail Sales Index July 2020