Coronavirus: Spending surge doesn't make up for lockdown losses

A record-breaking surge in spending after the first lockdown ended wasn't quite big enough to make up for the losses incurred when we all had to stay home, new figures show. 

Retail spending jumped $1.8 billion (7.4 percent) in the three months to September, compared with 2019, Statistics NZ said. It came after a $3.6 billion (15 percent) drop in the June quarter, as the country shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The lockdown was successful, eliminating community transmission of the deadly virus which has ravaged other nations, allowing a rebound in spending and keeping job losses to a minimum.

"Retail sales obviously got pole-axed in the June quarter because we were locked down. As soon as we were let out mainly in June, but into July, August and September, it was off to the races," economist Cameron Bagrie told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"When you average it out, we spent less - but there was a big boing, a big springboard effect between the two quarters."

The jump in September quarter spending between 2019 and 2020 was the biggest since records began in 1995.

Overall, retail spending in the year to September was $97.6 billion, down 0.2 percent on the year to September 2019. 

"A strong September quarter has contributed to the year-ended sales coming in just shy of last year's value," Stats NZ retail statistics manager Sue Chapman said.

While Auckland had the biggest spending rebound in terms of dollars, as a percentage it lagged other regions thanks to the August lockdown, which was localised to the city. 

Staying out of lockdown will be crucial for many retailers this Christmas, said Bagrie.

"For the typical retailer, about 28 percent of sales come in, in the December quarter. Think about your department stores, recreation sales, typically 30-35 percent of their annual sales take place in the December quarter alone.

"The good news is there's still a fair bit of petrol in the tank. The fact the property market has surged is going to drive what's called the wealth effect - that's probably worth about $3 billion into retail sales... Jobseeker numbers are starting to stabilise, so we haven't seen that big surge in the unemployment rate.

"Consumers out there still seem to be reasonably chirpy. I wouldn't say they're ultra-happy, but consumer confidence is still holding up at a reasonable level. There's money in the bank - deposits have been moving up, so that tells me there's a little bit of liquidity." 

The lack of international tourism will see retailers lose about 3 or 4 percent of their business, Bagrie predicts.