The consumer remained torpid in May as retail sales continued to saw-tooth around a flat trend line.
Total retail sales at $5.54 billion were up 0.4 per cent on April when adjusted for seasonal effects, but that followed a 0.3 per cent fall in April, continuing a one step forward, one step back pattern clear since late last year.
May's sales were up just 2.3 per cent on May last year.
Core retail sales, which exclude the automotive sector, were down 0.2 per cent on April - disappointing the market which had expected a 0.6 per cent increase - and also down 0.2 per cent on May last year.
Deutsche Bank chief economist Darren Gibbs noted a 3.9 per cent rise in appliance sales, from April, to the highest level since January.
With a 7.5 per cent rise in vehicle sales (to the highest level since September 2008) that could be an early sign consumers were seeking to beat the rise in GST on October 1, Gibbs said.
By contrast sales in the non-durables and services sectors were soft.
Accommodation sales fell 3.6 per cent in May but that only reversed half of April's increase. Sales of vehicle fuels fell 1.9 per cent, reflecting a 1.5 per cent drop in petrol prices in May.
"The overall impression from the retail sales survey is that consumer spending remains very subdued."
The Real Estate Institute's stratified house price index recorded a 0.6 per cent rise in June. But Bank of New Zealand economist Craig Ebert said that simply extended the up-and-down pattern in place for a while.