‘R’ word makes retailers nervous

POLITICIANS, forecasters and spin doctors are avoiding the “R” word but many small retailers are seriously considering a change of career.

Retail figures for December showed the bumper Christmas season of retailer’s anecdotal reports did not actually appear.

In fact, WA’s retail trends appear softer than the national average.

WA Retailers Association CEO Martin Dempsey said now the official numbers were out, words of Christmas being a bumper season had officially been debunked.

“There is a real fear of the future after the poor post-Christmas sales period,” Mr Dempsey said.

“All the spins are coming out – this will be a ‘soft landing’ and a ‘smooth transition’. If it’s so smooth, why is the ACTU talking about the working poor.

“There needs to be a better recognition that all is not rosy. The economy has come off and a lot of people are reconsidering their future.”

Mr Dempsey said a lot of small retailers were starting to wonder whether they would see out the year.

“There is quite a bit of evidence that Perth cannot sustain the number of sub-regional shopping centres we have now,” he said.

“The going rate for a shopping centre in receivership is one quarter to one third of its built cost. And it costs about six times as much to get a new tenant in as it does to service an existing one.

“Yet landlords are thumping the life out of their tenants.

“And the Government is not offering us much help. All this business about small business being the engine room of WA’s economy seems to account for diddly.”

Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief economist Nicky Cusworth said future projects such as Woodside’s fourth Liquefied Natural Gas train should offer some hope.

But she admitted flow-on effects from such infrastructure projects took some time to filter through to the economy.

“The bigger the project, the bigger the lag,” Ms Cusworth said.

“What we don’t seem to be having is a pre-election hiatus.”

However, Ms Cusworth said there were some reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the WA economy.

“The housing slump does appear to be stabilising,” she said.

“Our business expectation survey showed West Australian businesses were more optimistic than the rest of Australia.

“Job advertisements in Western Australia jumped 7 per cent for January.

“That follows seven months of decline so we’re 17 per cent behind where we were last year.

“But that’s a good sign.

“We might not be improving but we’re not going backwards as fast as we were.”

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