Seasonally adjusted total retail spending on credit and debit cards increased 0.1 per cent in February from January, Statistics New Zealand. Core retail spending, excluding fuel and vehicles, fell 0.3 per cent.
Spending dropped in two of the six retail industries, was unchanged in two, and rose in two.
Consumables spending, which covers grocery and liquor retailing, dropped 0.5 per cent in the month.
Stats NZ retail manager Sue Chapman said this was the first decrease in the category since May 2017 and “could be the effect of people hunkering down during the two ex-tropical cyclones that hit this month”.
“While spending was on the soft side of expectations, this followed a large 1.4 per cent gain last month, and still leaves us with a fairly healthy picture of spending growth over the past year,” said Westpac senior economist Satish Ranchhod.
The market and Westpac had expected a modest gain in retail spending, he said.
“With mortgage rates continuing to edge down in recent weeks and renewed strength in the housing market, we expect to see household spending remaining firm over the next few months,” Ranchhod said.
Spending on durables and hospitality was unchanged in February, while apparel spending rose 0.3 per cent. Spending on vehicles excluding fuel rose 2.3 per cent, while fuel spending dropped 0.3 per cent.
The figures show actual total retail spending climbed 3.3 per cent to $4.9 billion in February from the same month a year earlier.
Card-holders across all industries made 134 million transactions in the month, down from 141 million in January. The average value of $50 was unchanged from January.
Meanwhile lower meat and poultry prices led the 0.5 percent fall in February 2018 food prices, according to Stats NZ.
Beef prices fell 4.4 percent, while chicken prices fell 3.4 percent. The average price for cheapest available chicken breast was $12.83 a kilo, down from $13.94 the previous month.
Grocery food prices also fell in February 2018, down 0.7 percent, with lower prices for chocolate.
Fruit and vegetable prices fell 0.9 percent in the month, with no overall change after seasonal adjustment.
Prices for fruit and vegetables decreased 4.4 percent in the year to February 2018. The decrease in fruit and vegetable prices offset increases in all other food groups, with an overall annual increase in food prices of just 0.1 percent.
“It was around this time last year that we were seeing the effects of a poor summer season,” said consumer prices manager Geoffrey Wong.
“The average price for a kilo of tomatoes was $2.86 in February 2018, compared with $3.64 in the same month last year.”