Retail therapy is back in fashion as household spending spikes


The busiest quarter for property in eight years, footwear, food and fun dominate spending, and 365,000 workers ditch the 9-5 to start new businesses.

Here are five things you may have missed this week.

Footwear, food and fun - we're spending more

Person standing with shopping bags, representing how Australians are spending more on discretionary items post-pandemic.

The latest data on household spending from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows we're not holding back when it comes to enjoying some retail therapy.

February saw a 7.7% rise in overall household spending. But the big money went on clothing and footwear (up 20%), recreation (18%) and cafes and restaurants (16%).

Booze and cigarettes were one of the few areas where we clamped wallets shut, with spending down 10% for the month.

It's a far cry from the start of the pandemic when household spending plunged by 24% in a matter of days between March and April 2020.

Jacqui Vitas, head of macroeconomic statistics at the ABS, says fewer COVID-19 cases in February, alongside the further easing of restrictions over the month were behind the increased spending in recreation, hospitality and retail venues.

Record number of homes listed for sale

Good news for home buyers. A PropTrack report by REA Group, the name behind property selling site, says the first quarter of 2022 has seen the busiest start to a year since 2014.

New property listings across the nation's capital cities were up 16.2% in March, with all capital cities recording double-digit month-on-month growth in new listings.

The volume of new homes coming onto the market was highest in Canberra (up 21.6%) and Adelaide (19.3%).

Darwin lagged the field, with new listings rising by 12.3%.

PropTrack Economist, Angus Moore, says "the property market started 2022 strongly, with a brisk pace of new listings marking an eight-year record."

Moore believes the combination of easing buyer demand and high levels of new supply are giving home buyers more choice while easing competition in the market.

New entrepreneurs open for business

Thousands of Australians made the switch from employee to business owner in the 2021 financial year, according to new research by Finder.

When lockdowns first started in March 2020, a Finder survey found just one in eight workers felt insecure about their job.

By April 2020, that number jumped to one in four - equivalent to 3.2 million workers.

Fears of job security may have fuelled the launch of 365,480 new business last financial year. A figure the ABS says is the highest since data collection began in 2013.

"Many Australians dream of calling the shots, and the restrictions over the last few years and work from home orders may have prompted some people to take the leap," says Finder's personal finance expert, Kate Browne.

Budding entrepreneurs don't have to go it alone. Support is available through the Federal Government's New Business Assistance.

It offers small business training and mentoring plus the New Enterprise Investment Scheme Allowance - equal to Jobseeker payments for up to 39 weeks. Be sure to check eligibility conditions.

Super funds post strong results

It's been a positive year for the nation's super funds, with SuperRatings data showing balanced funds notched up one-year gains of 7.6% to March 2022. Funds with a growth focus achieved returns averaging 9.2%.

That's above the average annual return of 7.2% on balanced funds since the introduction of compulsory employer-paid super in 1992.

"We are currently on track to end the 2022 financial year in positive territory, depending on how investment markets perform over the June quarter," SuperRatings' Kirby Rappell says.

That said, he expects fund performance will be "muted" compared to the cracking 17.8% returns on super seen in 2020/21.

What's especially remarkable is that balanced super funds have recorded losses in only four out of the 32 years since the launch of the Super Guarantee.

Commercial property shines

Mention the word 'property' and most of us think of residential housing.

But a new report from valuers Herron Todd White shows commercial property (think warehouses, office space and shops) can also deliver healthy returns.

The report says some areas saw capital gains of up to 50% on commercial properties sold over the past year.

According to Raine & Horne, demand for commercial property is being fuelled by small businesses taking advantage of low interest rates to buy their premises - a strategy it says can be cheaper than leasing.

This gels with ABS data showing business lending for property purchases has jumped 137% since a low in July 2020, led chiefly by small and medium-sized businesses.

Interest rates on commercial property mortgages tend to be higher than for home loans. Adelaide Bank offers a rate of 3.89% but borrowers need a 35% deposit.

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A former Chartered Accountant, Nicola Field has been a regular contributor to Money for 20 years, and writes on personal finance issues for some of Australia's largest financial institutions. She is the author of Investing in Your Child's Future and Baby or Bust, and has collaborated with Paul Clitheroe on a variety of projects including radio scripts, newspaper columns, and several books.