Retailers have warmly welcomed today’s Australian Bureau of Statistics trade figures for January, which showed the sector made a solid start to 2014, writes Trevor Evans from the National Retail Association.

The 1.2 per cent increase (seasonally adjusted) for January 2014 is a further sign of steady improvement for retail and we welcome the ABS report of a 6.2 per cent increase compared with January 2013.

However, while the headline results are encouraging, growth remains fragile with large variations in the performance of various sectors and around the country.

There’s no doubt this is a pleasing result for retailers. It continues a run of steady growth that is now unbroken since August last year. It is important to understand, however, that this growth is off a low base and that not all retailers are seeing this growth.

Our members report to us that performance is patchy from sector to sector and across different parts of the country.

The ABS reported strong increases in turnover for department stores (2.6 per cent), cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (2.0 per cent), ‘other retailing’ (1.9 per cent), and household goods retailing (1.5 per cent).

Clothing, footwear and personal accessories (1.1 per cent) and food (0.4 per cent) enjoyed modest rises.

New South Wales (2.1 per cent) became the nation’s strongest performing state in January. The Northern Territory (3.3 per cent), Tasmania (1.8 per cent), Victoria (1.0 per cent), Queensland (1.2 per cent) and South Australia (0.6 per cent) also recorded increases.

These rises were partially offset by falls in the Australian Capital Territory (-1.9 per cent) and Western Australia (-0.3 per cent).

These results, combined with feedback from our members, tell us that consumer sentiment is still fragile and the momentum of recent months could be easily lost. This vindicates the Reserve Bank Board’s decision to leave rates on hold earlier this week, and we urge the RBA to consider the patchy nature of these results as it considers monetary policy in the future.