Retail sales have surprised analysts by falling in November, after a flat month in October.
The Bureau of Statistics retail trade figures show turnover fell 0.1 per cent in the crucial pre-Christmas month of November, seasonally adjusted, despite a rate cut the month before.
Economist forecasts had centred on a rise of 0.3 per cent, according to a survey of analysts by Reuters.
The largest contributors to the fall in sales were a 0.9 per cent slump in household goods retailing, a 0.6 per cent slide in clothing, footwear and accessories, and a 0.4 per cent fall in department store sales.
More specifically, there was a large 1.8 per cent fall in hardware, building and garden supplies, a 1.6 per cent slide in furniture and floor coverings, a 2 per cent slump in footwear and personal accessories, and a 0.4 per cent fall for cafes and restaurants.
These falls were partially offset by a 1 per cent rise in "other retailing", a 0.2 per cent increase in clothing sales, a 0.2 per cent rise in electronics, and a 1.2 per cent jump in takeaway food sales.
The rise in other retailing was mostly driven by a rise in sales in stores that did not fit into any of the ABS categories, although it also included a 1.3 per cent rise in newspaper and book retailing and a 0.8 per cent increase in cosmetic, pharmaceutical and toiletry sales.
UBS economists Scott Haslem and George Tharenou say, even within categories of retailer, there has been a notable distinction between the performance of large and small shops.
"Interestingly, large retailers (5.0 per cent year-on-year) are clearly outperforming small retailers (-0.8 per cent year-on-year), which may explain why listed companies report 'decent' sales," they noted in a report on the figures.
There was also a significant divergence between states, with the Northern Territory (-0.9 per cent), South Australia (-0.6 per cent), Western Australia (-0.3 per cent) and New South Wales (-0.2 per cent) recording declines, while the ACT (+1 per cent), Victoria (+0.3 per cent) and Tasmania (+0.1 per cent) saw sales increase.
Despite the November decline, Western Australia continues to lead national retail sales growth over the medium term.
Market impact Westpac's economists say the figures show the Australian economy ended last year with a whimper.
"All in all, it seems best to characterise this outcome as a further indication of disappointingly weak retail activity in Q4 [the fourth quarter]," they wrote in a note.
"The trend monthly pace of growth is now just 0.05 per cent, 3.1 per cent year-on-year." The Australian dollar fell around a quarter of a cent to 104.95 US cents on the weaker than expected figures.
On the share market, Myer fell sharply by 3.4 per cent after the figures came out, while David Jones lost just 1 cent to $2.39, and Harvey Norman dropped 2.3 per cent on the weakness in furniture and other household goods.
Other retailers benefitted from the data, with JB Hi-Fi up 1 per cent on the modest rise in electronics sales, while the major supermarket owners Wesfarmers and Woolworths were both higher on the continued strength in food and liquor sales.