NZ first quarter retail sales rise, driven by car sales

Retail sales rose in the first quarter, powered higher by a surge in car sales.

New Zealand retail sales rose in the first quarter, powered higher by a surge in car sales.

The volume of retail sales increased a seasonally adjusted 1.5 per cent in the three months ended March 31, from a 0.9 per cent rise in the December quarter, Statistics New Zealand said. The total value of retail sales, seasonally adjusted, rose 2.6 per cent in the quarter to $21.7 billion, ahead of the 1.6 per cent pace in the December quarter.

The rise in the volume of retail sales was driven by motor vehicle and parts retailing – up 5.9 per cent on the quarter. The record increase accounted for more than half the total gain in retail sales volume for the quarter, Stats NZ said. Volumes in core retail – which excludes motor vehicles and fuel – rose 1.2 per cent in the quarter, outperforming the prior quarter’s 0.7 per cent growth.

“Car sales have shown consistent growth over the past year, with higher sales of both new and used vehicles in a buoyant market,” Stats NZ senior business indicators manager Neil Kelly said.

“The demand for cars may reflect New Zealand’s growing population, with net migration remaining at record levels into 2017, and the relatively low cost of new vehicles.”

New Zealand’s car market has been on a tear for the past three years, setting new records through that period as the country’s relatively strong labour market has provided enough jobs for an expanding population.

Sales values rose for 10 of the 15 industries in the quarter, with fuel retailing up 6.5 per cent to $2 billion and motor vehicle and parts retailing up 5.9 per cent to $3.2b. Non-store and commission-based retailing rose 9.6 per cent to $389m. Four of the 15 industries fell, with supermarket and grocery store retailing down 0.2 per cent to $4.5b while hardware, building and garden supply retailing was unchanged at $1.8b.

The North Island saw sales values rise 2.3 per cent to $16.5b in the quarter, with $7.9b of that in Auckland, $2b in Waikato and $2b in Wellington. Sales values rose 2.8 per cent to $5.2b in the South Island.

On an unadjusted basis, the value of retail spending rose 6.7 per cent to $21.5b in the March quarter compared to the same period a year earlier.