Slow season at the tills

Robert Laing

Robert Laing

Midyear is traditionally slow for retailers, especially fashion shops caught between seasons, and this June saw the total sales rung up by South Africa's tills fall to R39,7billion from more than R40billion in May.

Though inflation boosted total sales by 11,5percent from June last year, higher home and car repayments saw consumers actually spend 2,6percent less than a year ago after inflation has been taken into account.

June's decline follows May's 3,4percent drop in real retail sales.

Johan Botha, an economist at Standard Bank, said 2,6percent was twice as bad as he had expected.

June marked the fourth month that inflation-adjusted retail sales have fallen, setting the scene for a consumer recession which should dissuade the Reserve Bank's seven member Monetary Policy Committee from voting for another interest rate increase today.

Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni will announce the committee's decision at 3pm.

Citigroup economist Jean-Francois Mercier said: "On balance, further evidence of subdued consumer demand in the second quarter is an additional argument for the central bank to leave rates on hold - as we and a majority of market economists expect."

Hardware stores see sales slump over the December builders' holidays, unlike other retailers which enjoy a Christmas sales spike. Stats SA's June retail data found hardware stores enjoyed the best growth over the year. Home owners fixing rather than buying saw hardware sales rise 16,4percent to over R3billion.

Delicatessens, on the other hand, reported the lowest growth among retailers at under three percent year-on-year. With food inflation averaging 17percent over the year, this implies much fewer South Africans can now afford to buy what Stats SA calls "specialised food".

Midwinter saw clothes shops suffer an eight percent month-on-month slump, taking their total sales down to R7,2billion.

However, this year's between seasons sales were still nearly 16percent higher than last year's sales over the same period.