Singapore retail sales jump 54% in April from last year's circuit-breaker low

This made for a third straight month of retail sales growth after a 24-month-long year-on-year slide.
This made for a third straight month of retail sales growth after a 24-month-long year-on-year slide. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - 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 on Friday (June 4), 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-long year-on-year slide.

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

He expects that retail sales will recover further in the year ahead on the back of domestic demand, given that Singapore’s 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.

Meanwhile, sales of watches and jewellery jumped the most, by 646.8 per cent.

This was followed by sales of apparel and footwear, which increased by 442.6 per cent.

Takings at department stores grew by 279.9 per cent, while sales of recreational goods increased by 174.6 per cent.

Vehicle sales went up by 261.3 per cent, while petrol service stations registered an increase of 103.8 per cent.

Sales of cosmetics, toiletries and medical goods also rose in April, by 31.2 per cent, reversing a revised 12.3 per cent decline in March.

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.

"Sales of optical goods and books, and computer and telecommunications equipment declined 9.7 per cent and 7.8 per cent respectively, due mainly to lower demand for books and mobile phones," it said.

Retailers of watches and jewellery, motor vehicles, as well as furniture and household equipment, also saw declines in sales of between 3.9 per cent and 4.7 per cent.

In contrast, sales at department stores, and takings of apparel and footwear, as well as cosmetics, toiletries and medical goods, rose between 3.3 per cent and 4.6 per cent in April.

SingStat noted that food and beverage (F&B) sales likewise 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.

Restaurant sales grew by 172.9 per cent, while cafes, foodcourts and other eating places saw takings rise by 59.6 per cent.

Takings at fast-food outlets rose 34.8 per cent. 

But food caterers continued to suffer a slide in sales, of 31.7 per cent.

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