New Zealand retail spending on electronic cards gained slightly in February, but was subdued in most retail industries with spending on groceries and liquor falling.

Seasonally adjusted total retail spending on credit and debit cards increased 0.1 per cent in February from January, Statistics New Zealand. Core retail spending, excluding fuel and vehicles, fell 0.3 per cent.

Spending dropped in two of the six retail industries, was unchanged in two, and rose in two. Consumables spending, which covers grocery and liquor retailing, dropped 0.5 per cent in the month. Stats NZ retail manager Sue Chapman said this was the first decrease in the category since May 2017 and "could be the effect of people hunkering down during the two ex-tropical cyclones that hit this month."

"While spending was on the soft side of expectations, this followed a large 1.4 per cent gain last month, and still leaves us with a fairly healthy picture of spending growth over the past year," said Westpac Banking Corp senior economist Satish Ranchhod. The market and Westpac had expected a modest gain in retail spending, he said.

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"With mortgage rates continuing to edge down in recent weeks and renewed strength in the housing market, we expect to see household spending remaining firm over the next few months," Ranchhod said.

"However, this strength is expected to ease back somewhat later in the year. In part, this is because the new Government's policies will cool housing demand and in turn will dampen growth in consumer spending. We also expect to see mortgage rates rising modestly towards the close of 2018."

Spending on durables and hospitality was unchanged in February, while apparel spending rose 0.3 per cent. Spending on vehicles excluding fuel rose 2.3 per cent, while fuel spending dropped 0.3 per cent.

Today's figures show actual total retail spending climbed 3.3 per cent to $4.9 billion in February from the same month a year earlier.

Card-holders across all industries made 134 million transactions in the month, down from 141 million in January but ahead of the 128 million transactions recorded in February last year. The average value of $50 was unchanged from January and from the previous February.