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Retail spending, exports rebound in April

New figures show the economy got off to a solid start to the June quarter with exports and retail spending growing in April, after Australia reported a solid expansion in the first three months of 2021.

Construction data also showed the industry remains in expansion territory.

Australian exports recovered by three per cent in April, pushing the trade surplus out to $8 billion and more than $2 billion larger than March.

Imports declined three per cent.

At the same time, retail sales grew by 1.1 per cent in April, confirming preliminary figures posted last month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported on Thursday.

Both exports and retail spending had been a drag on growth in the March quarter.

Even so, Wednesday’s national accounts showed the economy grew by 1.8 per cent in the March quarter, lifting the annual rate to 1.1 per cent.

“The Australian economy today is bigger than it was going into the pandemic,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

“But we know that the pandemic is still with us, and as long as the pandemic is still with us, the Morrison government’s support continues.”

He said the extension of the seven-day lockdown in Victoria was devastating and the Commonwealth government was still considering options on what additional support it might provide.

At this stage it is unclear what impact another Victorian lockdown will have on Australia’s economic recovery.

Addressing a Senate hearing on Wednesday evening, Reserve Bank deputy governor Guy Debelle said recent three-day lockdowns around the country had little lasting impact on household spending and the overall economy.

“We will just have to wait and see. It is longer than three days clearly, but given it’s been one weekend, it’s too early to tell,” he said.

The construction industry continues to expand at strong pace, edging back only slightly from the record high in March.

The Australian Industry Group/ Housing Industry Association performance of construction index eased 0.8 points, but at 58.3 per cent in May it still indicates the industry is comfortably in expansionary territory.

Ai Group head of policy Peter Burn said new orders were growing strongly again in May.

“(With) the pipeline of infrastructure projects stretching over a number of years, there is a clear need for the industry and governments to move together to ensure there is adequate capacity in the sector and its supply chains to meet ongoing demand,” Dr Burn said.

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