Sales slumped for a second month in Australia's embattled retail sector in June, data showed Wednesday, as consumers saved rather than spent and sought bargains offshore with the strong local dollar.
Retail sales fell a seasonally-adjusted 0.1 percent, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said, deepening the 0.6 percent slide seen in May and worse than the 0.3 percent gain expected by the market.
Department stores were worst hit, slumping 3.2 percent in the month, followed by household goods, and restaurants or takeaway food, each down 0.7 percent, the ABS said.
The Australian dollar fell to US$1.0688 on the data, from $1.0740 prior to its release and well short of the $1.1062 record set last week during the US debt impasse and amid speculation of an interest rate hike.
The Aussie's stellar run near or above parity with the greenback over the past 12 months has hit retailers hard, seeing Australians travel overseas in record numbers and driving a 13 percent surge in online shopping.
Relatively high interest rates are also seeing mortgage-laden consumers save rather than spend, and sentiment has plunged to recession levels as the gulf widens between the booming mining sector and other parts of the economy.
Top-end department store David Jones rattled the market by slashing its forecasts last month, warning profits for January-June 2011 would be 20 percent lower than the same period in 2010 due to a dramatic slide in sales.
"Sadly, it appears temperatures and retail figures have fallen together in June. Department stores have recorded particularly low figures," said Australian National Retailers' Association chief Margy Osmond of the poor winter sales in June.
"Continuing the pain for the retail sector, year-on-year growth now sits at 1.4 percent -- well below the six percent average growth of previous years."