The index – which provides an in-depth gauge of Australian consumer spending – shows strong Christmas trading was boosted by the lifting of Delta restrictions, with accumulated household savings during COVID also powering the surge.

Travel spending intentions rose 28.1% during December as a result of the reopening of state borders and an upswing in summer holiday spend.

Travel related spending is up 20.9% from December 2020.

Transport spending intentions jumped 11.8% in the month, with higher petrol prices a key factor according to the report.

CBA senior economist Belinda Allen said the household spending data for December showed a sustained recovery from the Delta lockdowns, although increased numbers of people isolating due to the Omicron virus is impacting spending levels in January.

"December is generally a seasonally strong time for retail due to Christmas shopping," she said.

"However, this was compounded by the fact that this year was the end of restrictions post Delta and there was accumulated household savings, which led to a strong surge in spending.

"The boost in the travel and transport sectors also reflect increased mobility around the country in December. Domestic tourism - such as driving holidays - are lifting spend, while we continue to see reduced air travel due to availability. This is flowing through to higher spending in other related sectors."

Spending Category Monthly Change  Yearly Change 
Travel +28.1% +20.9%
Transport +11.8% +34.8%
Retail +10.8% +2.8%
Entertainment +4.9% -7.1%
Household +3.5% +8.0%
Insurance Costs +1.8% +3.9%
Communications +0.1% -0.2%
Education -0.3% +2.9%
Utilities -0.8% +0.8%
Motor Vehicle -2.9% +27.7%
Health and Fitness -6.0% +9.9%
Home Buying -17.3% -8.6%

Source: CBA

Spending already slowing in January

CBA economist Stephen Wu said consumer spending had already dropped by around 3% over January as a result of the latest spike in COVID cases.

"It is important to note that there is always a high degree of volatility around spending over the Christmas and New Year period," he said.

"But our assessment at this stage, based on our internal data, is that the surge in COVID cases over the past three weeks has resulted in around 3% less spending over the period than would otherwise have been the case.

"With a large number of people in isolation we have seen spending on services slow sharply. Unsurprisingly, spending on transport and recreation has slowed in recent weeks."

Image by Paul Felberbauer via Unsplash

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