Chief economist update: Aussie Black Friday spend will end Saturday

With the bushfire inferno still raging, Australia needs all the good news it could get ... and it's arrived.

The All Ordinaries index surged by 0.7% to a new record high of 7041.9 points and the Australian dollar appreciated by 0.6% to US$0.6901 at the close of last week's trading - boosted by optimism over the upcoming US-China "phase one deal" expected to be signed on the 15th of this month and the de-escalation of tensions between the US and Iran.

All good but even better is the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) latest update on the country's retail spending.

The ABS reported that retail sales jumped by 0.9% in the month of November. This is more than double market expectations for a 0.4% increase and follows increases of 0.1% in October and 0.2% in September.

According to Ben James, director of Quarterly Economy Wide Surveys at the ABS: "We have seen strong growth in Black Friday sales, both in areas such as electrical goods and online sales, but also in areas such as clothing and furniture ... While seasonal adjustment removes regular seasonal patterns associated with Black Friday based on prior results, the strong seasonally adjusted rises in a number of sub-groups this month shows that the impact of this Black Friday exceeded that of previous years".

Even better than this, reported by news.com.au: "Retail experts have expressed confidence in meeting a $2.5 billion earnings goal over the Christmas period despite a slow start to Boxing Day sales. The Australian Retailers Association forecast $18.7 billion will pass through the tills between Christmas and mid-January; a 2.3% increase from 2018."

Hip, hip. The RBA wouldn't need to exhaust all its interest rate cut bullets, not to mention engage in quantitative easing, anymore.

More so, given that the Morrison government - forgive my cynicism but in its bid to remain in government - has all but ditched its commitment to a budget surplus.

"The surplus is of no focus for me whatsoever. What matters to me is the human cost and meeting whatever cost we need to meet," Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently declared.

More fiscal spending towards "rebuilding of bridges, rebuilding of roads and other critical infrastructure..." would boost employment and by extension, increased spending, sales and profits and private investment that the economy sorely needs.

The wealth effect engendered by the recovery in property prices and the gains in the equities market should also support consumer spending.

I say "should" because, looking at the stats at hand, it remains uncertain whether the latest surge in retail spending could be maintained - lowered interest rates and the July 2019 tax rebates weren't able to coax highly indebted Australian consumers to go on a spending spree. As at the September 2019 quarter, household debt to disposable income was tracked at 187.0%.

Especially not when wages growth remains stagnant - the annual pace of growth in wages slowed to 2.2% in the September 2019 quarter from 2.3% in the previous one.

Given still depressed consumer confidence, Australians are more likely to exploit the RBA's lower interest rates, the Morrison government's increased spending and the wealth effect from rising property and stock market prices to save or reduce their indebtedness.

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