SINGAPORE - Retail sales in Singapore recovered at a stronger year-on-year pace than expected in September, helped by new mobile phone launches and with most industries seeing higher turnover.
Takings at the till rose by an annual 6.6 per cent, reversing the 2.8 per cent decline in August, according to data released by the Singapore Department of Statistics (SingStat) on Friday (Nov 5).
The drop in August had snapped six months of increases that owed much to comparisons with figures from last year, when there were stricter Covid-19 curbs.
September's 6.6 per cent rise in retail sales was higher than the 2.2 per cent increase tipped by economists in a Bloomberg poll.
Within the retail industry, computer and telecommunications equipment enjoyed the biggest increase with sales surging 66.1 per cent year on year - owing mainly to launches of new mobile phones, including Samsung's Galaxy Z and Apple's iPhone 13.
Maybank Kim Eng economist Lee Ju Ye said: "The improvement in September was also likely on the back of the easing of dining-in rules, which likely contributed to higher footfall in malls, as was reflected in the uptick in people movement to retail and recreation venues compared with August."
Petrol service stations, and watches and jewellery also registered growth in sales amid higher petrol prices and greater demand for jewellery.
Excluding motor vehicles, total retail sales rose 8.3 per cent, compared with the flat growth in August.
On a month-on-month seasonally adjusted basis, takings increased 6 per cent in September over the previous month, compared with the 0.6 per cent drop in August.
The estimated total retail sales value in September was $3.4 billion. Of this, online sales made up an estimated 15.2 per cent, compared with the 14.1 per cent recorded in August.
Online computer and telecommunications equipment sales accounted for more than half, or 53.7 per cent, of the industry's total sales.
Meanwhile, sales of food and beverage (F&B) services rose 4.4 per cent in September from a year ago, after falling 6.7 per cent in August, when stricter dine-in restrictions were enforced for that month, compared with August last year.
On a month-on-month seasonally-adjusted basis, F&B turnover climbed 12.1 per cent in September, compared with a 2.1 per cent decline in August.
During Sept 1 to 26, dining in was allowed at most places for groups of up to five fully vaccinated persons. This was reduced to groups of up to two fully vaccinated diners from Sept 27. In August, dining in was suspended from Aug 1 to 9, and allowed at most places for groups of up to five fully vaccinated persons from Aug 10.
Ms Selena Ling, chief economist and head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank, said the stabilisation phase only started on Sept 27 and was originally scheduled to last until Oct 24, so the full impact of the tightened restrictions for dining in and default work-from-home arrangements may not have been fully captured in the September retail sales data.
"While these Covid restrictions were subsequently extended further to Nov 21, the potential dent on domestic private consumption this time round may be relatively mild, partly because the local labour market conditions have improved again," she said.
Ms Ling added that the gradual reopening of the borders to overseas visitors via Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) may also mean that the modest return of overseas visitors may give a much welcome lift to the retail sector in the coming months.
"Although this may be slightly offset by some leakage from Singaporeans travelling overseas via the VTLs and partially shifting their discretionary spending power overseas," she said.
Within F&B, sales of food caterers jumped 36.4 per cent year on year owing to the low base last year when demand for catering was low. Turnover of fast food outlets, as well as cafes, foodcourts and other eating places increased 10.7 per cent and 8.4 per cent respectively, owing to higher demand for food deliveries.
Conversely, turnover of restaurants fell 5.2 per cent, owing to tightened dine-in restrictions compared with September last year when dining in for groups of up to five was allowed for the whole month.
Total F&B sales value came in to $669 million in September, with online sales making up 34.5 per cent, lower than the 39.3 per cent recorded in August.