Dramatic changes in consumer spending in March

Consumers dramatically changed their spending patterns last month because of Covid-19 and the government ordered lockdown.

Official numbers show overall retail spending using electronic cards fell a record seasonally adjusted 3.9 percent on the previous month.

Stats NZ senior manager Sue Chapman said spending on eating out and accommodation plunged by $338 million, about a third, as the shutdown loomed and then came into effect.

"This hit hospitality hard. Restaurants, cafes, and bars, as well as hotels, motels, and other accommodation, saw sales drop sharply," Chapman said.

"Hospitality was also affected by fewer international visitors due to travel restrictions since February."

But the slide in eating out was offset by a $341m increase on supermarket and grocery sales, and liquor.

Spending on big ticket items, such as appliances, clothing, and fuel and vehicle spending were all markedly lower.

Core retail spending, which excludes fuel and vehicle-related sales fell 1.5 percent.

The numbers include sales on credit and debit cards, and cover about two-thirds of retail spending.

An economist said the near-term retail outlook for anything but essential goods was weak, and might not improve much even when the lockdown restrictions were lifted.

"Despite policy makers throwing in the kitchen sink to cushion the household sector, a retail spend-up after the end of the lockdown from pent up demand may be muted as households remain cautious with an eye on the weaker economic prospects ahead," ASB senior economist Mark Smith said.

This article was originally published on RNZ and re-published with permission.

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