New Zealanders spent more on their cards in retail stores last month than any previous December, according to new figures released by Statistics New Zealand.

The total retail spend using electronic cards was $6.5 billion in December, up $355 million (5.8 per cent) on December 2015.

However, when adjusted for seasonal effects, retail spending fell 0.1 per cent.

The largest industry increase came from hospitality, up $126m (13.4 per cent).

"This is the first month card spending in hospitality exceeded $1 billion," said business indicators manager Tehseen Islam. "The higher hospitality spending coincides with a period of rising international tourism and residents enjoying Christmas and New Year holiday breaks."

Compared with November 2016, the big movers were fuel, up $26m (4.4 per cent) and durables, down $17m (1.4 per cent).

The total value of electronic card spending, which includes non-retail spending, was unchanged last month.

Card-holders made a record 153 million transactions across all industries in December, with an average value of $54. The total amount spent across all transactions - retail and non-retail - was $8.2b.

Westpac senior economist Satish Ranchhod said in a statement the spend was much weaker than expected.

"We had expected to see a rebound following earthquake-related disruptions in November."

A range of factors continued to support spending, including strong population growth, a strong tourist season, and improved fortunes in the dairying sector.


"However, one of the big drivers of spending growth in recent years has been low interest rates and the flow-on to the housing market. Borrowing rates have risen in recent weeks and the housing market has cooled.

"Putting all this together, while we don't expect to see spending collapse over the coming year, we may see a more gradual pace of growth over 2017."

ASB economist Daniel Snowden said in the result had no implications for its Official Cash Rate view.

"We continue to expect the [Reserve Bank] to remain on hold at 1.75 per cent for the foreseeable future," it said in a statement.

"We expect the recent weak headline results to be a blip and continue to expect spending growth to remain firm, supported by high net migration, dairy's recovery and low interest rates."

Retail spending on electronic cards