December sales figures point to trade buoyancy

Retail performance up 5.6% on previous year

Despite a tumultuous economic year, retailers ended last year on a high note, with December trade recording a 5.3% increase in sales over the same period in 2016.

Highlighting sales of household furniture, appliances and equipment, which fielded 10% year-on-year growth in sales, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) yesterday revealed trade buoyancy across the entire fourth quarter of last year, when retail trade sales increased by 5.6% compared with the same quarter in 2016.

The latest trade figures, released in Stats SA’s Retail Trade Sales report, were supported by the BankservAfrica Economic Transaction Index (BETI), which measures transactions in South Africa, and Mastercard, which pegged spending growth during the festive season at 3.8%.

The positive December trading period – the most important of the year for retailers – was also experienced in Nelson Mandela Bay.

A recent survey by The Herald of shopping centres showed that trade had been brisk at all major centres in Port Elizabeth.

According to Stats SA, while retailers of household furniture, appliances and equipment had fielded collective sales growth of 10%, collective year-on-year sales growth for “all other retailers” was recorded at 14.7%.

This included positive results for retailers of clothing, footwear and leather goods, with 7.7% year-on-year growth, and general dealers, which saw a 3% increase in sales over 2016.

Shengeran Naidoo, head of stakeholder engagement for the BETI, said the latest data showed a strong Christmas season.

“Economic activity in January increased at its fastest rate on a year-on-year basis since August 2013.

“The actual number of transactions that underpinned the BETI increased by 11.2% on a year-on-year basis, indicating that an underlying positive trend is starting to emerge,” Naidoo said.

“Although the seasonally adjusted BETI’s movement [transactions] between January and December showed no change, it is a step in the right direction towards improvement.

“For the first time in nine months, monthly declines did not occur for three consecutive months.

“The flat movement between the January and December BETI change indicates that the economy is performing somewhat more positively.”

BankservAfrica also revealed that, along with the volume of purchases, the value of purchases had also shown growth over December and that the main purchases recorded over this period had been at grocery stores and supermarkets. This was followed by service stations, eateries, family clothing stores, convenience stores and speciality markets.

Mastercard SpendingPulse, which reports on national retail sales, said December had had the strongest monthly sales performance for retail spending nationally since May 2013 and that sales volumes rose 3.8% (after inflation effects were removed) year on year.

“Including the effects of inflation, retail sales for December 2017 grew 7.5% year on year,” Mastercard’s senior vicepresident for market insights, Sarah Quinlan, said.

“Inflation contributed just 3.7 percentage points to overall sales growth, which marks a significant deceleration in price inflation, bringing consumers much-needed relief over the holiday season.

“The spike in consumer spending during the holiday season took retail sales to new highs.

“Sturdier GDP growth, a lower inflation outlook and stronger rand, which drove down import prices – all benefited consumers over the holidays.”

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