Bank report finds Australian shoppers spending up big after COVID restrictions eased

People in the Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales (NSW), finally released from their COVID-19 lockdowns, are digging deep into their wallets as they return to retail shops and restaurants, according to latest figures from the country’s biggest bank.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s (CBA) data released on Tuesday showed that in the week ending October 29, national consumer spending had tracked 20 percent higher than the corresponding week of 2019, which was prior to the start of the pandemic.

CBA economists said if the trend continued, the national spending would reach the growth levels seen earlier in 2021, which averaged at 22 percent above 2019 figures in late April and early May.

“We are seeing the economic engine rev higher again as people get out and about, catching up on lost time with friends and family,” said CBA chief economist Stephen Halmarick.

Last week, spending in NSW, which began to emerge from its lockdown in mid-October, was 23.3 percent higher than the corresponding week in 2019. Among the sectors doing brisk business were restaurants and pubs, and transportation was also popular.

Meanwhile, Victoria, which lifted many of its lockdown restrictions last Tuesday, saw spending rise 1.2 percentage points above the prior week, equating to a 10 percent increase on the same week in 2019.

The Victorians were also keen to return to restaurants, with spending up 20 percentage points from the week earlier, while drinking out surged 30 percentage points. Overall, the state contributed just under half of the national increase in spending in the week.

“Victorian retailers welcomed back shoppers this weekend, and we anticipate that will translate into stronger spending on clothing, footwear and general retail in next week’s report as it had done in NSW as its lockdown ended,” Halmarick said.

Excluding Victoria, spending across all states and territories now sits at 20 percent or more above 2019 levels.

Economists, however, noted that some retail categories that benefitted from a post-lockdown surge were showing signs of softening. This includes personal care spending, which eased a little last week but remain above pre-lockdown pace.

“If you missed a haircut during lockdown, you don’t catch up by having two,” Halmarick said.

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