Retailers' Unhappy Christmas


SYDNEY -- Retail sales fell 0.2% in December across all retail sectors, suggesting retailers had an unhappy Christmas.

However, the news wasn't disappointing to some sectors, with gains in footwear and accessories retailing, which rose 4.2%, and clothing up 1% compared to the previous year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Department stores also saw an improvement, with sales rising 0.8%, which should be good news for David Jones Limited and Myer Holdings Limited .

Even the long-suffering electronics retail sector eked out a small gain, with sales rising 0.2%, perhaps a reason why JB Hi-Fi Limited is up 4.7% in lunchtime trading.

Newspaper and book sales slumped a whopping 7.5%, as consumers continue to shun physical media and move onto digital versions. Cafe and restaurant sales shrank, dropping 1.5% and 0.7%, respectively, while specialist food retailers saw sales slump by 4.6%. Supermarkets, like Coles -- owned by Wesfarmers Limited saw just 1% sales growth, although the festive season saw liquor sales up 1.9%.

While we have yet to see the effects of retail sales over the Christmas period for most retailers, several have already reported large jumps in turnover and sales, including Kathmandu, Country Road, and Speciality Fashion Group.

While most retailers are showing positive gains in their share prices today, the news wasn't so good for the Australian dollar. It dropped below US104 cents, as traders increased their view that the Reserve Bank will be forced to cut the cash rate within the next couple of months.

Foolish takeaway
Much like any other sector, retail has some companies that will do well, while others struggle. The key is comparing company growth to the sector it is in. Above sector growth usually means the company is gaining market share from its competitors.

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The Motley Fool's purpose is to help the world invest, better. Click here now for your free subscription to Take Stock, The Motley Fool's free investing newsletter. Packed with stock ideas and investing advice, it is essential reading for anyone looking to build and grow their wealth in the years ahead. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson. Motley Fool writer/analyst Mike King owns shares in David Jones and JB Hi-Fi.

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