April 3, 2019 / 1:13 AM / 20 days ago

Australia Feb retail sales growth hits 15-month high, record trade surplus

SYDNEY, April 3 - Australian retailers enjoyed their best sales in February since late-2017 in a boon to economic growth in the first quarter, signalling surprising resilience in household consumption and sending the local dollar higher.

Retail sales climbed 0.8 percent in February, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed on Wednesday, picking up from a surprisingly weak 0.1 percent growth in January and well past expectations for a small 0.2 percent rise.

February’s outcome is the best since November 2017.

Consumer spending has been a major concern for policymakers over the past year as households battle high levels of debt, slow pace of wage growth and a downturn in the country’s once-booming property market.

The data provided a much needed confidence boost about the health of Australia’s household sector, sending the Aussie dollar more than a third of a U.S. cent higher to$0.7100.

The currency was earlier nursing losses from the previous day after the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) held interest rates steady but managed to sound dovish to some.

February’s strong number reduces the risk of another weak quarter of economic expansion after gross domestic product data for the quarter ended December came in surprisingly softer at 0.2 percent.

Household spending accounts for around 57 percent of Australia’s annual GDP.

Separate data showed Australia’s exporters were enjoying boom times as the country’s trade surplus swelled beyond all expectations to A$4.8 billion ($3.4 billion) in February, the second highest on record. ($1 = 1.4104 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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