March card transactions flat

Retail card spending was flat in March, which was no great surprise to the market given the strong increase in spending seen in February.

Statistics New Zealand figures released yesterday showed total electronic card transactions in March did not move at all against the February figure. In the year ended March, transactions grew by 5.8%.

Excluding auto sector sales, card transactions grew 0.1% for the month and 5.6% for the year.

Westpac senior economist Felix Delbruck said some of the weakness was likely to be due to the later timing of Easter this year. But even taking that into account, the trend in card spending had clearly slowed in the three months to March.

ASB economist Daniel Smith said most of the weakness in March spending came in the apparel category, where spending was down 2.4% from February.

''Again, that is not all that surprising given excellent late-summer weather will have delayed many winter clothing purchases. The same pattern was seen last year.''

Overall, clothing spending had fluctuated a lot from month to month but had been growing slowly over the past couple of years, he said. First-quarter spending was up by around 4% from the same three months last year.

Elsewhere, there were no major shifts in spending during March.

The largest category, consumables, recorded a 0.4% increase in spending. Annual growth in the category remained ''fairly lacklustre'' at 3%, Mr Smith said.

''We do expect some pick-up over 2014 as strong population growth feeds into spending in supermarkets and other necessities.''

Hospitality spending continued to grow, up another 0.5% in March.

Strong consumer confidence had seen Kiwis eating and drinking out more and strong visitor arrival numbers had boosted tourist spending.

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