Solid retail spending expected pre-Omicron

Consumers came out and spent in the window between lockdowns and the spread of the Omicron variant.
Consumers came out and spent in the window between lockdowns and the spread of the Omicron variant.

Australians went on a mass spending spree in the final months of 2021 after many had been cooped up in lockdown battling the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

However, there are already signs that spend-up is petering out with the country now engulfed in the Omicron strain.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will release its first data of the year this week, including retail sales for November on Tuesday.

Economists are expecting another strong result of around five per cent, building on the 4.9 per cent increase in October as NSW, Victoria and the ACT all emerged from extensive lockdowns.

However, an analysis by ANZ senior economist Adelaide Timbrell showed spending in the week to January 5 slowed to its lowest level since the Delta lockdowns as consumers showed caution about being in public places.

This was compounded by staff shortages, stifling spending across dining, retail and travel, she said.

In a speech late last year, Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe said he hoped the $200 billion in savings accumulated by households would support strong spending and economic growth in coming months.

AMP Capital Senior Economist Diana Mousina believes Australia is now in a "bad position" given the rapid spread of the coronavirus, which saw nearly 75,000 new cases reported on Sunday in NSW and Victoria alone and 20 deaths.

"This boils down to the easing of virtually all restrictions in December at a time of a new, more transmissible variant, very early stages of the booster rollout and the holiday season which means more travel and interactions," Ms Mousina said.

Added to this, there is difficulty in getting tested for COVID-19, meaning that many cases are going uncounted with people relying on rapid antigen tests, if they are lucky enough to get one, she said.

Other ABS data due for release includes building approvals for November on Monday, which Commonwealth Securities chief economist Craig James expects could show a five per cent increase, rebounding after two months of decline.

International trade figures for November are released on Tuesday, job vacancies for the three months to November on Wednesday and the week ends with November lending data on Friday.

Meanwhile, Australian shares look set for a flat start to the week as Wall Street succumbed to worries over looming US interest-rate hikes and unfolding Omicron events on Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 4.81 points, or 0.01 per cent, to 36,231.66; the S&P 500 lost 19.02 points, or 0.41 per cent, to 4,677.03; and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 144.96 points, or 0.96 per cent, to 14,935.90.

New figures showed US employment rose by a less-than-expected 199,000 jobs in December, well below the 400,000 forecast by economists.

However, data for November was revised higher and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.9 per cent - which is seen as near full-employment - keeping the US Federal Reserve on track to raise interest rates.

Australian share futures managed a two point rise, or 0.02 per cent, to 7351.

The Australian benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed 95 points higher, or 1.29 per cent, at 7453.3 points on Friday.

Australian Associated Press