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Coronavirus-led panic buying boost Australia's Feb retail sales

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Australian retail sales gained 0.4 per cent in February, provisional data from the statistics bureau on Wednesday showed, as the rapid spread of coronavirus caused panic buying at supermarkets and grocery stores.

[SYDNEY] Australian retail sales gained 0.4 per cent in February, provisional data from the statistics bureau on Wednesday showed, as the rapid spread of coronavirus caused panic buying at supermarkets and grocery stores.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed the monthly rise that followed losses in December and January was largely driven by food retailing.

Other sectors such as clothing, footwear and personal accessory as well as duty-free stores and luxury goods retailing were hit hard by coronavirus-related travel restrictions that curtailed tourism and eating out.

Retailers with no specific links to tourism were largely unaffected last month, the ABS said.

The statistics office has begun publishing additional data to enhance understanding of the economic impacts of the coronavirus. Wednesday's release was the first for Australian retail turnover.

The estimate is subject to revision with the final monthly estimate due to be published on April 3.

National Australia Bank chief economist Alan Oster said there was "little to celebrate" despite the monthly rise in February.

"Panic buying has now set in at supermarkets across Australia," Mr Oster said.

"While this will boost the headline retail sales figure in March, other retail sectors and consumption spend more generally in areas such as health, education, restaurants and other services – including airlines - face massive challenges."

Australian grocers such as Woolworth and Coles have seen hefty earnings upgrades in recent days as a shift to home-cooking in the age of coronavirus has led to a mad rush to stores by panicked shoppers. 

REUTERS