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Australian retail sales bounce back in April, outlook downbeat

  • April retail sales +1.0 m/m vs 0.3 pct consensus
  • March retail sales revised lower to -0.2 pct
  • Retail sales running at avg 0.2 pct in 2017

Australian retailers enjoyed their best monthly sales in nearly three years in April after a tepid start to the year as shoppers spent more at department stores and on food.

Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) data out on Thursday showed real retail sales rebounded 1.0 percent in April, topping expectations of a gain of 0.3 percent and reversing a revised 0.2 percent fall in March.

The bounce-back will provide some comfort to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) which has worried about the effect excessive borrowing in the red-hot property sector could have on spending elsewhere in the economy.

RBA Governor Philip Lowe has warned that high levels of household debt could curtail spending should consumers decide they have to put more aside to pay off that borrowing.

Retail sales have been subdued over the past year or so at a time when wages growth is stuck at a record low 1.9 percent.

"It's a pretty decent bounce-back but if you take an average of 2017, retail sales is still running at a very modest 0.2 percent," said Su-Lin Ong, senior economist at RBC Capital.

"It's good to see the bounce-back but we don't expect to see a repeat as underlying consumption growth is still weak."

Thursday's data shows a 1.1 percent gain in cafe, restaurants and take away food services, and a 1.2 percent rise in food retailing. Sales at department stores climbed 2.5 percent.

Sales growth in clothing and footwear was an anemic 0.3 percent while household goods rose 0.4 percent after falling for two straight months.

Economists believe April retail sales may have been distorted by the aftermath of a devastating cyclone that hit Queensland state at the end of March.

Retail sales were up 2.4 percent in Queensland after five consecutive months of falls as households replaced cyclone- and flood-damaged possessions.

Retail sales in New South Wales, Australia's most populous state and home to its most expensive real estate, rose 0.1 percent.