Australia retail sales up 0.6% in Jan, COVID restrictions a drag

SYDNEY, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Australian retail sales rose by less than expected in January as a coronavirus lockdown in the city of Brisbane kept shoppers at home, continuing the see saw pattern of sales in recent months.

Sales rose 0.6% in January, from December, missing market forecasts of a 2.0% gain, preliminary data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed on Friday.

Yet sales of A$30.54 billion ($23.73 billion) were still up a strong 10.7% on January last year, before the pandemic hit.

The state of Queensland saw a fall of 1.5% as COVID-19 restrictions in Brisbane hit household goods retailing, clothing, footwear and department stores.

Retail activity has been wildly volatile in recent months amid lockdowns and massively popular online sale events, with spending surging 7.1% in November only to dive 4.1% in December.

The pandemic has also confounded the usual seasonal adjustment pattern and exaggerated moves in both directions.

The ABS will release the final estimate on March 4. ($1 = 1.2872 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Wayne Cole Editing by Shri Navaratnam)