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Australia retail sales slump in June on virus lockdowns – preliminary data

FILE PHOTO: A shopper holds items and looks at others on sale at a clothing retail store in central Sydney, Australia, March 19, 2017. REUTERS/Steven Saphore

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian retail sales slumped in June as coronavirus lockdowns and mobility restrictions in much of the country hit demand, yet another sign that the economy hit an airpocket in the third quarter.

Retail turnover in June fell 1.8% from a month earlier, the biggest drop this year, preliminary figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed on Wednesday. Median forecasts of economists polled by Reuters had pointed to a 0.5% fall in June.

Australia’s second most populous state of Victoria entered a snap lockdown in June while Sydney announced mobility restrictions to stamp out the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. Other states and territories also announced mini-lockdowns last month hitting inter-state travel.

Wednesday’s data showed Victoria led the falls in June with a 3.5% drop as the hit from the state’s fourth lockdown was more pronounced than in May. Sales declined 2% in New South Wales while Queensland was weaker too due to stay-at-home restrictions and reduced interstate mobility.

Sales for July are likely to be worse given the lockdown in Sydney was extended for the entirety of the month and a snap lockdown in Victoria have also lengthened at least through July 27.

A majority of economists are predicting Australia’s A$2 trillion economy will shrink in the third quarter, its first contraction since June 2020 while the country’s central bank is seen reversing its taper decision in response to the current virus outbreak.

The slowdown in demand is already evidenced by weekly consumer confidence readings, with the latest report showing a 5.2% slump last week, the biggest fall since March 2020 when the pandemic first hit.

Credit and debit card spending data from the Commonwealth Bank showed a 0.6% drop in New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital city, over the week ending July 16 versus 2019 levels. That compares with a 2.1% lift in the prior week.

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