New Zealanders racked up more on their credit cards in January with increased purchases of durable goods and big-ticket items.

Core retail spending on credit and debit cards rose a seasonally adjusted 2.2 per cent in January, reversing the 1.7 per cent decline reported in December, Statistics New Zealand said. Including petrol and vehicle-related spending, purchases were up 1.8 per cent.

That was led by a 5.1 per cent lift in spending on durable goods, such as hardware, appliances, and furniture. Spending was up across all categories except fuel, which was down 0.5 per cent in the month.

"Spending in the durables industry bounced back from the December 2018 month," retail statistics manager Sue Chapman said in a statement.

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"A lag in processing of transactions may have contributed to the December and January movements."

A number of retailers have given a fairly subdued assessment of the Christmas-New Year trading period, which is one of their most important sales periods. That is despite consumer confidence surveys remaining upbeat with people stating their willingness to buy big-ticket items such as furniture and whiteware.

Today's data also shows more of those purchases were made on credit. Just over 54 per cent of January's transactions made on credit cards, the highest proportion since Stats NZ started tracking the breakdown in 2002.

Calendar 2018 was also the first time credit card transactions were a bigger proportion of transactions than debit cards.

That follows on from Reserve Bank data last month showing 32.4 per cent of total credit limits were outstanding at the end of December, the highest proportion since the central bank started collecting that data more than a decade ago.

Today's card spending data show total retail purchases rose $5.52 billion in January, up 3.5 per cent from a year earlier. Spending on durable goods was up 6.2 per cent from a year earlier at $1.28b, while consumables rose 5 per cent to $2.04b.

Including services and non-retail industries, spending on electronic cards increased 4 per cent in January to $7.33b from a year earlier.

Westpac economist Satish Ranchhod said the size of today's increase affirmed his view that the December spending decline was overstated.

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"While the retail sector has lost some steam over the past year, what we're looking at is a moderation in growth after strong gains in recent years - rather than a sharp slowdown as had been feared," he said.