A surge in car purchases lifted retail sales in March, though a broad fall in sales of other consumer goods and services has left shops and restaurants here worried.
Total retail turnover in March was $3.7 billion, up 5.1 per cent from $3.5 billion in the same month last year, the Department of Statistics (DOS) said yesterday.
This was due mainly to a 41.3 per cent jump in motor vehicle sales. If these sales were stripped out, retail sales fell 2.2 per cent - better than the 3.9 per cent decline tipped by economists in a Bloomberg poll.
HSBC economist Joseph Incalcaterra said: "An increase in tourist arrivals likely helped offset the domestic slowdown so far this year, but this wasn't enough to counteract the slowdown, possibly due to the fact that per capita tourist spending has been moderating over the past few years."
March painted a brighter retail picture than February, when total shop receipts fell 3.1 per cent, and a sharp 9.5 per cent once motor vehicle sales were excluded.
Spending on food and beverage services was down 0.7 per cent in March from the same month last year, led by a 9.2 per cent fall in restaurant receipts, and a 1.6 per cent fall in business for food caterers. But this was partially offset by a 7.8 per cent jump in revenue for cafes and other eating places and a 2.7 per cent rise in business for fast-food joints.
The sharpest decline was felt by telecommunications apparatus and computer sellers, who posted a 15.1 per cent drop in sales.
Sales of discretionary items such as watches and jewellery fell 12.2 per cent in March year on year. Consumption trends remain "tepid" and a strong rebound in the second quarter is unlikely, Mr Incalcaterra said.
A DOS survey of services firms last month found that more firms are expecting slower business over the next six months than firms expecting conditions to improve.
Mr Incalcaterra said: "This is consistent with weakness in the services sector in the first quarter, in particular the retail sub-component." Retail sales decreased 1.4 per cent in March over the previous month. Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales declined 0.6 per cent.