Coronavirus to hit retail sector which saw worst year since 2013

The Singapore Tourism Board has projected a fall of tourist arrivals of around 25 per cent to 30 per cent, owing to the ban on inbound Chinese travellers. Advisories from other economies also discourage travel to Singapore.
The Singapore Tourism Board has projected a fall of tourist arrivals of around 25 per cent to 30 per cent, owing to the ban on inbound Chinese travellers. Advisories from other economies also discourage travel to Singapore.ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Coronavirus fears may see sales fall even further, say analysts

The struggling retail sector has just suffered its worst year since 2013, with more pain to come as it braces for the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

The latest blow came yesterday - with data showing that sales slid for the 11th consecutive month in December. Takings at the till fell 3.4 per cent compared with December 2018 on the back of decreasing motor vehicle sales.

If motor vehicles were excluded, retail sales scrapped through with a 0.1 per cent year-on-year increase, noted the Statistics Department (SingStat).

Retail sales declined 2.8 per cent last year compared with the previous 12 months, marking the deepest contraction since 2013, said United Overseas Bank economist Barnabas Gan.

It also signals the second consecutive year of contraction, with this decline expected to persist into the first half of this year due to the coronavirus spread.

Mr Gan noted that the Singapore Tourism Board has projected a fall of tourist arrivals of around 25 per cent to 30 per cent this year, owing to the ban on inbound Chinese travellers.

Advisories from other economies - including South Korea, Taiwan, Kuwait, Qatar, Israel and Britain - also discourage travel to Singapore.

Mr Gan noted that during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, retail sales fell 6.5 per cent year on year in February and 3.7 per cent in March that year. "This would suggest that a sustained fall of retail sales value in the coming two months is possible," he said.

OCBC Bank head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling added: "We may not have seen the bottom yet for retail sales."

Ms Ling noted that consumers will be cutting back on discretionary spending, "given the avoidance of crowded places and postponement or cancellation of many big-scale meetings and events".

Maybank Kim Eng economist Lee Ju Ye said supermarkets may see a lift this month due to the stocking-up, but this will likely be a transitory effect.

  • 2.8%

    Decline in retail sales in 2019 compared with the previous 12 months, marking the deepest contraction since 2013.

    24.1%

    Decline in motor vehicle sales in December.

    8.2% 

    Decline in furniture and household equipment sales, followed by a 6.3 per cent decline for computer and telecommunications equipment.

    5.6% 

    Decline in department stores' takings.

Motor vehicle sales plunged 24.1 per cent in December. SingStat said earlier that there was a lower certificate of entitlement quota for the November to January period.

Sales were down at other retailersdespite the festive season. Furniture and household equipment sellers recorded a drop of 8.2 per cent, followed by a 6.3 per cent decline for computer and telecommunications equipment.

Department stores also had a muted Christmas, with takings falling 5.6 per cent.

 
 

However, bright spots remained, with the sales of watches and jewellery rising 8.9 per cent.

Petrol service stations also record higher sales, up 5.4 per cent, while retailers of medical goods and toiletries recorded a rise in takings of 4.8 per cent.

The sales of food and beverage services rose 2.7 per cent during the festive season - led by fast-food outlets, which were up 7.7 per cent.

Takings at cafes, foodcourts and other eating places rose 3.6 per cent and restaurants racked up a 2 per cent rise - but food caterers recorded a dip in turnover of 2.8 per cent.

The total sales value of F&B services last December was estimated at $964 million, compared with $938 million in December 2018.

Last December's estimated total retail sales value was about $4.2 billion - with about 6.8 per cent from online retailers.

Analysts said online sales might be the segment bolstering retail.

"E-commerce and online food delivery services will likely outperform... as more consumers choose to stay home. This may cushion the negative impact on overall retail sales," said Ms Lee.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2020, with the headline 'Retail sector suffers worst year since 2013'. Print Edition | Subscribe