(Corrects to show online sales are included in the data, paragraphs 10-11)
By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY, Jan 11 (Reuters) – Australian retail sales boasted the biggest monthly rise in four years in November as consumers splashed out on Apple iPhones and Black Friday promotions, a major boost for an economy that had been struggling with sluggish spending.
The local dollar jumped a third of a U.S. cent to $0.7874 as the surprising strength helped counter concerns consumers had lapsed into a near-permanent depression.
Thursday’s figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed retail sales jumped 1.2 percent in November from October, when they rose a solid 0.5 percent. That was three times the market forecast and the steepest gain since early 2013.
Sales were up 2.9 percent on a year earlier at a record seasonally adjusted high of A$26.38 billion ($20.75 billion). Gains were led by a hefty 4.5 percent rise in household goods and a 2.2 percent increase for other retailing.
“Seasonally adjusted sales in both these industries are influenced by the release of the iPhone X and the increasing popularity of promotions in November, including Black Friday sales,” the ABS said in a note.
Consumer spending has been under pressure from record-high household debt and sluggish wage growth, one reason the Reserve Bank of Australia is in no rush to raise interest rates from record lows.
Futures markets <0#YIB;> still imply around a 50-50 chance of a hike by September and are not fully priced for a rise from 1.5 percent until February next year.
The marked revival in sales in October and November greatly improved the outlook for gross domestic product growth in the fourth quarter, given household spending accounts for around 57 percent of annual economic output.
Household consumption had expanded at its slowest pace since 2008 in the third quarter, marring an otherwise respectable annual growth outcome of 2.8 percent.
THEN THERE‘S ONLINE
The retail series also showed rapid growth in online sales, which are only set to take a bigger share as Amazon set up shop late last year and is rapidly expanding its offerings.
The ABS measure showed online sales surged 22 percent in original terms in November to A$1.51 billion.
National Australia Bank (NAB) produces an online measure of its own that showed a sharp 4.7 percent rebound in sales in November, the fastest pace since late 2014.
In all, NAB estimates consumers spent A$24 billion online in the year to November, with annual growth running atop 14 percent.
Anecdotal evidence from traditional retailers still suggest they had a better December holiday season than first feared, while surveys found a marked brightening in the consumer mood.
A survey from ANZ and Roy Morgan out this week showed confidence had improved to the best since late 2013. Notably, those saying they were “better off” financially picked up to 35 percent, helping offset concerns about slow wages growth. ($1 = 1.2711 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Paul Tait)