Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

Aussie Consumers Spooked as Sales Show Weakest Run in 7 Years

  • Retail sales flat in September after 0.5% slump in August
  • Currency drops and traders pare bets on interest-rate hikes

Australia’s heavily indebted households are pulling down the shutters on consumption as retail sales suffered the weakest three-month stretch in seven years.

Sales were flat in September, after slumping 0.5 percent the prior month and dropping 0.3 percent in July, government data showed Friday. That’s the worst run since 2010. The currency dropped and traders pared bets on interest-rate hikes as the numbers suggested households are struggling to cope with record-high debt and record-low wage growth.

“The retail sector is on the ropes,” said Paul Dales, chief economist for Australia at Capital Economics Ltd. “Retailers discounted by more than usual and didn’t get much of a return from it.” He now estimates that gross domestic product slowed in the third quarter to 0.5 percent from 0.8 percent three months earlier.

The Australian dollar bought 76.87 U.S. cents at 12:32 p.m. in Sydney, down from 77.15 cents before the release.

September’s stagnant retail figures follow weaker-than-expected inflation data for the third quarter as businesses failed to pass on sharp increases in electricity prices to consumers amid concern they’d drive them away. Traders are now pricing in just over a 50 percent chance of a quarter-point rate increase in October next year.

Sales were dragged down by a 1.7 percent drop in other retailing, a category that includes newspaper and book shops, recreational goods and pharmaceutical toiletry and cosmetic goods. That was offset by a 2.1 percent surge in department stores as the discounting period came to a close.

— With assistance by Kimberley Painter

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