By Martin Vedris

SYDNEY: With all the talk that the economy is stalling and consumer confidence is falling, the new GfK TEMAX survey reveals that sales have never been better in Australia’s technical goods markets and January’s sales figures confirm it.

Questions many people in the consumer electronics industry are asking are along the lines of “are we there yet?” (in reference to whether we’re in a recession yet), “how’s everyone else going?” and “when’s the economy going to recover?”.

Consumer sentiment surveys suggest consumers are holding off from purchasing, but the latest research in the GfK TEMAX report suggests that these sentiments seem to be off the mark — consumers are spending and they are spending on technical goods.

GfK Australia’s strategic planning manager, Gwenno Hopkin, said that the GfK TEMAX is a perhaps better reflection of consumer confidence than consumer sentiment surveys that ask consumers if they are planning to spend, because TEMAX shows what they actually did spend.

“There seems to be a big gap between consumer sentiment, i.e. how they are feeling in general about the economy, now, and over the next year, and what the consumer is actually doing,” said Hopkin.

“Up until the end of January at least, the GfK TEMAX measurement shows that consumers were feeling confident enough to spend on slower-moving, ‘non-essential’, big-ticket items’.”

The GfK TEMAX (an initialism formed from the phrase TEchnical MArket indeX) is a new quarterly sales index that measures the global technical goods market. GfK launched TEMAX in Germany in 2007, and GfK now measures the same technical goods categories in 20 countries around the world. Results from each country can be viewed at the GfK TEMAX website.

The technical goods categories measured in GfK TEMAX are defined as Consumer Electronics, Photo (digital still cameras and digital photo frames), Major Domestic Appliances, Small Domestic Appliances (which includes air conditioners), Information Technology, Telecommunication and Office Equipment and Consumables.

The first Australian GfK TEMAX index, for the quarter ending December 2008, suggested that spending on over 80 technical goods categories experienced a value growth of 4.8 per cent in quarter four 2008 compared to quarter four 2007.

And in quarter four 2008 alone, the total spend on technical consumer goods categories was $5.34 billion.

Popular categories were notebooks (especially netbooks), storage, digital SLR, video MP3s and smartphones. Flat panel TVs accounted for more than 16 per cent of the total spend, and grew in value by 10.8 per cent in quarter four 2008 v quarter four 2007.

So, “are we there yet?” Well, January sales figures show that Australian technical goods spending has still not let up, with January year on year increases in almost all categories across the board.

The biggest growth categories in January, year on year, were of course cooling products, with fans up 89 per cent, and air conditioners up 32 per cent, but digital still cameras were up 22 per cent, vacuum cleaners up 12 per cent, washing machines up 12 per cent, personal care products up 16 per cent, and notebooks also up 16 per cent.