We are eating out rather than shopping with the first retail figures for the year showing spending at cafes and restaurants up 4.3 per cent in January.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics says purchases of food from supermarkets and convenience stores were flat in January after slipping a seasonally-adjusted 0.5 per cent in December. Spending in specialty stores lifted 0.2 per cent, spending on household goods fell 1.8 per cent.
Retail spending in the ACT grew 2.1 per cent in January, well above the national average of 0.3 per cent.
Half of the growth in spending in the ACT came from extra spending in cafes and restaurants.
TD Securities economist Annette Beacher said, ''It seems the 0.50 point mortgage rate cut in late 2011 was celebrated by eating out''.
''Consumers are spending, but increasingly on services, not all reflected in the retail figures.''
ACT and Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Chris Peters said he was pleasantly surprised by the January retail figures.
''A lot of major stores heavily discounted in December to try and attract trade and that includes the stores where there was literally 40 and 50 per cent off,'' Dr Peters said.
''My concern was that would have brought forward a lot of the January sales results so I was expecting January to be worse than otherwise might be the case.''
Dr Peters said the results indicated Canberra residents were less concerned about the global financial situation and about federal political uncertainty than they had been late last year.
''This has shown that confidence is stronger, that people are less concerned than they were pre-Christmas and while we're not going to set any records, it does mean that retailers have a future and they can survive,'' he said.
Reserve Bank figures released yesterday show borrowing for housing weak, with lending up 0.2 per cent in January after growth of 0.3 per cent in December. The annual growth rate of 5.3 per cent is the worst in 35 years.
The Housing Industry Association count shows new home sales slipped a seasonally adjusted 6.4 per cent in January to an 11-year low led down by a 19.6 per cent slide in sales of new detached homes in Victoria.
HIA chief economist Harley Dale said, ''Victoria for a long time propped up new home building in Australia and now the reverse is occurring''.
''Other large markets are not filling the void.''
Separate Bureau of Statistics figures released yesterday show spending on new homes down 1.5 per cent in the December quarter. Spending on renovations fell 3.1 per cent.
Total construction spending slipped 4.6 per cent after climbing 11.7 per cent to a new record high the previous quarter.
Westpac economist Andrew Hanlan said the construction industry was running hot and cold.
''Infrastructure work in the mining states of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory is booming,'' he said.
''Work in the south-eastern states is declining.''