Retail sales increase in April but takings below pre-pandemic levels

A view of retail shops and the Food Republic (bottom) foodcourt at ION Orchard last month. OCBC Bank economist Howie Lee expects retail sales to contract on a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis due to measures under phase two (heightened alert)
A view of retail shops and the Food Republic (bottom) foodcourt at ION Orchard last month. OCBC Bank economist Howie Lee expects retail sales to contract on a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis due to measures under phase two (heightened alert).ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Retail sales in Singapore rebounded in April, but the jump was largely inflated by comparison with the low base a year ago, when the Republic entered its circuit breaker period and physical stores were closed for most of the month.

Takings at the till continued to be below pre-pandemic levels, the Department of Statistics (SingStat) said in its report yesterday, and analysts say the outlook for the rest of the year is clouded by the likelihood of continued Covid-19 restrictions.

Retail sales surged by 54 per cent in April on a year-on-year basis, compared with a revised 6.3 per cent increase in March, according to SingStat data. It fell short of the 58.6 per cent increase expected by analysts polled by Bloomberg.

This made for a third straight month of retail sales growth after a 24-month year-on-year slide.

UOB economist Barnabas Gan said year-on-year growth has stayed positive for the quarter to April despite the absence of tourism-led demand, thus highlighting that domestic demand was behind the robust recovery.

He expects retail sales to recover further on the back of domestic demand, given that the labour market is likely to continue improving in the second half of this year.

The bank upgraded its full-year retail sales outlook to 10 per cent growth for 2021, up from 1 per cent previously.

OCBC Bank economist Howie Lee said retail sales are likely to continue posting double-digit year-on-year growth for the rest of the second quarter due to the low base in May and June last year amid the circuit breaker.

However, he expects sales to contract on a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis due to measures under phase two (heightened alert).

"Even if Singapore manages to return to phase three as scheduled, the continued restrictions on movement as well as lack of tourist arrivals mean retail sales for the rest of 2021 will likely be sluggish," he said.

Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales rose 39.2 per cent in April, compared with a 4.5 per cent increase in March.

All segments registered jumps in turnover except for supermarkets, hypermarkets, minimarts and convenience stores.

Takings at these places reversed their growth streak from last year, when more people stayed at home and bought groceries during the circuit breaker period.

Sales at supermarkets and hypermarkets plunged by 30.2 per cent from a year ago, while takings at minimarts and convenience stores dropped 16.8 per cent.

On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, takings at the till in April fell 1.3 per cent or 0.8 per cent, excluding motor vehicle sales.

SingStat observed that most retail industries recorded a fall in sales in April compared with March. It also noted that food and beverage (F&B) sales continued to be below pre-pandemic levels.

F&B services leapt by 73.4 per cent year on year in April, compared with a revised 8.4 per cent increase in March.

This was due to the low base last year when dining in at F&B establishments was not allowed during the circuit breaker period.

The total sales value of F&B services in April was estimated at $693 million, with online sales making up about 24.4 per cent.

The estimated total retail sales value in April was $3.3 billion. Of this, online retail sales made up an estimated 11.2 per cent.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2021, with the headline 'Retail sales increase in April but takings below pre-pandemic levels'. Subscribe