Retail sales in Australia were up a seasonally adjusted 2.2 percent in March compared to the previous month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday, standing at A$19.30 billion. That was well above analyst expectations for a 0.5 percent gain following the 2 percent decline in February.

All industries had a seasonally adjusted increase in March. Food retailing was up 0.4 percent, along with department stores (+13.2 percent), clothing and soft good retailing (+6.4 percent), household good retailing (+1.3 percent), other retailing (+1.5 percent) and cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (+1.4 percent).

All states except the Australian Capital Territory (-0.1 percent) had an increase in March. New South Wales was up 1.2 percent, along with Victoria (+2.7 percent), Queensland (+3.2 percent), South Australia (+2.4 percent), Western Australia (+2.2 percent), Tasmania (+2.2 percent) and the Northern Territory (+4.2 percent).

For the first three months of 2009, retail sales were up 1.0 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. Analysts had expected a rise of 0.8 percent on quarter.

In terms of volume, retail turnover climbed to A$53.96 billion from A$53.41 billion in the previous three months.

Also on Wednesday, the ABS said that Australia posted a merchandise trade balance of A$2.498 billion in March. The trade surplus was higher than the A$2.11 billion balance reported for April, and was also above the A$1.7 billion balance projected by most economic analysts after the revised A$746 million surplus in February.

The bureau said the seasonally adjusted surplus increase was primarily due to a decrease in goods and services imports.

Seasonally adjusted exports were up A$16 million to A$24.65 billion, with higher exports of rural goods responsible up 10 percent. The rise in rural goods was largely driven by the cereal grains and cereal preparations component, which rose A$249 million or 41 percent.

Imports fell a seasonally adjusted A$730 million or 3 percent, driven by non-monetary gold - which fell 46 percent to A$806 million.

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