By Chris Nicholls

SYDNEY: The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has announced the 2007 Christmas period showed the biggest year-on-year sales increase in almost a decade, with $36.5 billion in retail sales.

Executive director Richard Evans said the figures were in line with original projections, but beat revised expectations of $35.4 billion, projected after the interest rate rise in November.

“Retail sales from mid-November to Christmas eve are up 7.4 per cent on last year, making it the largest increase in close on a decade,” Evans said.

Household and entertainment sales made up $5.3 billion of the total, with department stores bringing in $3.6 billion. 

State-by-state, New South Wales accounted for $12.1 billion (33 per cent), Victoria $8.8 billion (24 per cent), Queensland $7.4 billion (20 per cent), WA $4.1 billion (11 per cent) SA $2.6 billion (7 per cent), Tasmania $747 million (2 per cent), ACT $395 million (1 per cent), NT $390 million (1 per cent).

“Obviously consumer confidence is still high across Australia and recent interest rate rises, which have perhaps been offset by recent tax cuts, did not dampen consumer spending over the Christmas period,” said Evans.

“Many home owners are also ahead of their mortgage payments, thus reducing potential impact of the Christmas spend. We also don’t see petrol prices affecting retail sales over this period.” 

However, Evans warned consumers to mind their credit card spending.

“Retailers love their cash registers ringing loud and often. However, with the post-Christmas sales continuing until mid January we once again caution consumers to be realistic when it comes to discretionary spending and not to extend too far on credit.

“Right now we are at the top of the cycle when it comes to consumer spending, but if consumers rely too heavily on credit, it could be a very difficult time in February when the bills come in,” Evans said.