Singapore retail sales fall at steeper 6.1% rate in January, due partly to timing of CNY

This marks the 24th straight month that retail sales have fallen year on year. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Singapore retailers began the year on a gloomy note with sales falling 6.1 per cent in January from the same month a year ago, according to data released by the Department of Statistics (Singstat) on Friday (March 5).

This was a steeper decline than last December's upwardly revised 3.3 per cent drop in sales, and marks the 24th straight month that retail sales have fallen year on year.

The larger decline in January was partially due to higher sales recorded in January 2020, when Chinese New Year was celebrated, said Singstat. This year, the festival fell in February.

Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales fell 8.4 per cent in January, compared with a revised 4.2 per cent drop in December last year.

Most retail industries continued to register year-on-year declines in sales.

The slump in takings was led by food and alcohol, where sales sank 43.6 per cent, followed by department stores at 36.1 per cent and cosmetics, toiletries and medical goods at 31.8 per cent. These industries continue to remain affected by low visitor arrivals with Covid-19 travel restrictions in place in many countries.

The food and beverage services sector saw a bigger year-on-year sales decline in January, with takings down 24.7 per cent, compared with the 16.3 per cent drop last December.

Food caterers led the fall in sales, with a plunge of 76 per cent, followed by restaurants at 30.2 per cent.

Sales at cafes, food courts and other eating places fell 6.8 per cent, while takings at fast food outlets fell 6.7 per cent.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, retail sales fell 1.8 per cent in January over the previous month. Excluding motor vehicles, they fell by a bigger 2.4 per cent compared to last December.

The estimated total retail sales value in January was $3.8 billion, with online sales making up 10.3 per cent of the total. This was lower than the 10.9 per cent recorded last December.

Online retail sales of computer and telecommunications equipment made up the biggest proportion of the total sales for its industry at 40.8 per cent, followed by furniture and household items at 23.3 per cent, and supermarket and hypermarkets at 11.6 per cent.

The total sales value of the food and beverage services was estimated at $720 million, with online sales making up 22.1 per cent, higher than the 21.3 per cent lodged last December.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said he had expected food and beverage services to perform better in January, but said the results reflect “a somewhat cautious mode”, even as Singapore is in the third phase of its reopening.

“Many locals still have lost their jobs and many foreigners have left Singapore, so it still reflects the cautious overall mood and economy,” he said.

Noting that the retail sales have been on the decline for two years now, Mr Song said: “It would take a significant easing in restrictions that allow more travel movements and the increase in hiring of foreigners both locally and globally to see sales go back to pre-Covid-19 levels. That will likely take a while to happen.”

UOB economist Barnabas Gan shared the same sentiments, adding that he expects retail sales to continue to stay subdued at least into the first half of this year, given the absence of tourism-led demand.

But despite the contraction in the overall retail sales index, he noted that there were signs of improving domestic demand, as observed in the strong growth in furniture, household equipment, telecommunications and computers, sales of motor vehicles.

This improving domestic demand, should it be sustained, could allow a rebound in the second half of 2021, he added.

He said: “Barring an unexpected exacerbation of Covid-19 infections in Singapore, we remain cautiously optimistic for retail sales to recover to 1.0 per cent in 2021.”

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