bleak outlook for retail sales

ECONOMISTS expect a further slide in retail sales when Statistics South Africa releases data for April on Wednesday.

Retail sales for March saw a 5,3percent year-on-year decline compared with the 4,4percent drop in February.

Despite recent aggressive interest rate cuts (400 basis points so far this year) by the Reserve Bank,d economists expect the retail sector to remain under severe pressure.

Richard Downing, head economist at the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he expected further contraction as a result of the high frequency of public holidays during April.

"Our survey showed April to be a negative month and much lower than March," he said.

"Durable goods suffered the most, as household credit was not increasing at a rate even close to inflation.

"Petrol prices have been on the increase, eating into people's disposable income, and inflation is already 8,5percent."

Fanie Joubert, senior economist at the Efficient Group, said people still shoppped on holidays.

"The main cause of the decline was the decline in household disposable income owing to our high interest rates over the past several years," he said.

Econometrix director Tony Twine said: "I don't think we'll see positive year-on-year growth until the fourth quarter of the year at the very earliest. "