RTTNews - Retail sales in Australia grew more than expected in May, boosted by higher sales in department stores, clothing and footwear and restaurants.

Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 1% in May, faster than a 0.3% increase in April and beating economists' estimates for a 0.5% rise. On an unadjusted basis, retail sales were up 2.4%. Retail sales were valued at A$19.5 billion in May.

During the month, retail sales from department stores showed the biggest increase in sales, rising 5.5%. This was followed by a 2.9% growth in clothing and soft goods retailing, and a 1.4% increase in restaurants and caf├ęs. However, household goods retailing fell 2%.

On the basis of the size, chains and large retailers' sales rose 2.5%, while those for small retailers grew 2.3%.

According to the Australian National Retailers Association, the retail sector has grown nearly 4% since the government introduced its first stimulus package. In a note released Wednesday, the retail lobby estimates that the government's cash handouts contributed A$758 million in retail sales in May, bringing the stimulus effect of the two cash handouts to A$3.6 billion.

Without the stimulus packages, the retail sector would be in a much poorer state, the ANRA CEO Margy Osmond said.

Meanwhile, the slowdown in the housing market continued. Separately, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said the seasonally adjusted building approvals decreased 12.5% month-on-month in May, reversing three months of increases. Private sector house approvals slipped 2%, while the private sector other dwellings approved dipped 43.6%.

Elsewhere, the latest report from the Australian Industry Group showed that manufacturing activity contracted for the 13th consecutive month in June, even as the index gained 0.9 points to 38.4, well below the boom-and-bust line of 50.

The number of job vacancies for skilled workers in Australia dropped 3.7% month-on-month in June, and was down 61.5% from a year earlier, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations said Wednesday.

Earlier in June, the IMF raised the economic outlook for Australia, expecting the economy to shrink at a slower pace of 0.5% this year compared to an earlier forecast for a 1.4% drop. At the same time, the international lender forecasts the economy to grow 1.5% next year, faster than its earlier forecast of 0.6% growth. The OECD also expects the Australian economy to contract 0.5% this year.

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