Statistics New Zealand has reported electronic card transactions (EFTPOS, credit and debit cards) for December fell 0.1% in seasonally adjusted terms for core retail sales.
This extends weakness seen in November and contrasts with stronger growth in September and October around the Rugby World Cup.
Total electronic card spending reached NZ$6.6 billion in December, but this was up only 0.2% in seasonally adjusted terms. This follows a similar decrease of 0.3% in November and a relatively large 1.7% increase in October.
Spending in core retail (which excludes the motor vehicle-related industries) fell 0.1% in December. Of the core retail industries, consumables and durables both had rises, while the apparel and hospitality industries both had small falls in seasonally adjusted sales.
When the motor vehicle-related industries are included, spending across all retail industries was down 0.3%. Fuel retailing fell 0.1% in December after strong rises in each of the four preceding months.
"Trends for the value of transactions in the total and retail series continue to increase, but the rate of growth has slowed in recent months. The core retail trend began to ease after May 2011 and has been declining since September 2011," Statistics NZ said.
ASB Economist Christina Leung said the strong results around the Rugby World Cup were shortlived and the retailing sector was now back in a very slow recovery mode, although she noted relatively firm spending on consumer durables.
"The continued improvement in spending on durables is encouraging, suggesting that households are feeling confident enough to make big-ticket purchases. We expect a continued recovery in underlying retail spending over 2012, although this will likely remain gradual in light of the continued high level of household debt," Leung said.
"This data adds to recent developments indicating there is little urgency for the RBNZ to raise the OCR, and we continue to expect the RBNZ will remain on hold until the end of this year."
(Updated with more detail, ASB comment)