New Zealanders lifted retail spending on credit and debit cards last month, adding to signs an accelerating economy is making consumers more confident to open their wallets.

Total electronic card transactions at retailers rose 0.6 per cent, seasonally adjusted, in December from November and were up 5.5 per cent compared to December 2012, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Core retailing rose 0.9 per cent, led by a 3 per cent rise in apparel sales, a 2.1 per cent increase in hospitality and a 0.7 per cent gain in consumables such as food and liquor, the data shows. Spending on durables, which includes furniture and appliances, edged up 0.2 per cent.

The gain in total retailing was helped by a 1.2 per cent rise in fuel sales, while vehicle sales were unchanged.


The cards transactions numbers reinforce the broader story of ongoing economic recovery, said ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley.

"It is a matter of time until the RBNZ starts lifting interest rates. We continue to expect the RBNZ to first lift the OCR in March this year, with fairly balanced risks to an earlier or later start," Tuffley said.

The official figures come after Paymark, which processes 75 per cent of all electronic transactions in New Zealand, reported last week that spending in December rose 7.5 per cent from a year earlier, rounding out the fastest annual growth since 2008 and including "record smashing" sales on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

Total card spending rose 1 per cent last month.

In unadjusted terms, there were 128 million transactions in December, with an average value of $56. The total spent was $7.2 billion.