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Black Friday boosts November retail to strongest level in 5 years

| Economic factors

November retail sales data surprised market expectations with an 8.2% year-on-year increase, the strongest performance in five years.

According to FNB senior economic analyst Jason Muscat, Black Friday, during the last week of November, helped lift sales in the sector.

Sales were higher than the 3.5% year-on-year sales recorded for October, according to data released by Stats SA on Wednesday. 

“This was the strongest year-on-year performance in five years,” said Muscat. Month-on-Month sales for November were 4% higher, compared to a -0.1% decline for October and -0.4% recorded for September.

“The figures should be viewed as transient in light of significant buying during the ‘Black Friday’ month, and in the context of relatively lacklustre trading updates from many domestic retailers.”

Muscat said that the figure shows that consumers and retailers are still constrained. Retailers are forced to introduce deep discounts to drive revenue, while sacrificing profit, and consumers are making use of the opportunity to save.

“Nevertheless, the sector is on track to make a significant, positive contribution to both fourth quarter GDP and full year 2017 GDP.”

Muscat said that a moderation in the retail sales data for December is expected. There will also likely be a contraction in the sales data for the first quarter of 2018, coming off the exceptionally high data reported for the fourth quarter.

Investec economist Kamilla Kaplan is also of the view that there may be weaker sales growth reported for December, especially as the Bureau of Economic Research Retail Survey for the fourth quarter showed that the retail sector’s performance during the festive period was not as expected.

The highest growth was reported for other retailers at 20.8%. This includes book stores, jewellers, sporting goods and second-hand goods. Retailers of household furniture, appliances and equipment reported growth of 14.1% and retailers of textiles, clothing, footwear and leather goods reported growth of 12.4%.

The main contributors to the 8.2% increase were general dealers, having contributed 2.6 percentage points, textiles, clothing, footwear and leather goods with 2.3 percentage points, and other retailers which contributed 2.2 percentage points.

Stefan Sulzer, partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group, said at the end of 2017, the overall economy was in a fragile state as a result of factors such as appalling business confidence, political uncertainty ahead of the election of the new ANC president, as well as high unemployment. 

Consequently, it was expected that all of these factors would culminate in constrained consumer consumption. 

"However, the overall development of the retail sector was strong, following suit with the previous months. Amongst other factors, this was fuelled by significant promotional activity by retailers in SA," said Sulzer.

"Based on the most recent retail figures, we can conclude that Black Friday 2018 was bigger than the previous year. It will now be interesting to see what momentum the retail sector carried into the arguably more important December 2017 trading period.”

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