Vehicle sector helps drive up retail sales

Retail industry continues lacklustre trend in September but strong car sales lift takings

The struggling retail industry continued to languish in September, with overall takings boosted mainly by strong car sales.

Retail sales rose 4.6 per cent over September last year, but if vehicles are excluded to give a better indicator of underlying consumer demand, turnover would have slipped 1.4 per cent.

The car market has been getting a lift from people who bought vehicles between 2004 and 2008, when the supply of certificates of entitlement was high.

Sales of discretionary items such as recreational goods, watches and clothing were weak, noted OCBC economist Selena Ling. Essentials like food and beverages, telecommunications and supermarket spending are propping up domestic consumption, she added.

They are now looking to replace their vehicles.

Car showrooms sold 48.3 per cent more vehicles in September than the same month last year, according to the Statistics Department yesterday.

Department stores, supermarkets and sellers of medical goods and toiletries also recorded an uptick in sales over last year but other retailers fared less well.

Takings at petrol stations plummeted 22.5 per cent over last year, partly because of lower fuel prices.

Sales of food and beverages, recreational goods, clothing and footwear, furniture and household equipment, optical goods and books, telecommunications apparatus and computers, as well as sales at minimarts and convenience stores, also declined.

OCBC economist Selena Ling noted that sales of discretionary items such as recreational goods, watches and clothing were weak.

Essentials like food and beverages, telecommunications and supermarket spending are propping up domestic consumption, she added.

Yesterday's data also showed sales of food and beverage services fell 2.7 per cent in September compared with the same month a year ago.

Restaurants experienced a 7.2 per cent slide in takings over last year, alongside other eating places such as cafes, which also saw sales fall 1.9 per cent.

Fast-food outlets did better - their sales rose 6.3 per cent over September last year.

Food caterers saw their takings tick up 1.3 per cent year-on-year.

The retail industry continues to suffer from muted consumer sentiment amid a lacklustre economy.

Listed players such as F J Benjamin and The Hour Glass recently reported earnings declines for the three months to Sept 30.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2015, with the headline 'Vehicle sector helps drive up retail sales'. Print Edition | Subscribe