24 months of pain as retail sales plunge 13pc to $32b

Finance | Kevin Xu 4 Mar 2021

Hong Kong's retail sales fell 13.6 percent to HK$32.6 billion in January from a year ago, the biggest year-on-year drop since July last year, data from the Census and Statistics Department showed.

That followed a 13.3 percent year-on-year drop in retail sales value in December.

Retail sales value have been on a losing streak for 24 months.

Sales of jewelry, watches, clocks and valuable gifts fell 31.7 percent in January.

After netting out the effect of price changes over the same period, the provisional estimate of the volume of total retail sales in January 2021 decreased by 14.5 percent compared with a year earlier. The revised estimate of the volume of total retail sales in December 2020 decreased by 14.0 percent compared with a year earlier.

This also came when visitor arrivals to Hong Kong plunged by 93.6 percent to 3.56 million in 2020 from 2019, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

But the government spokesperson said the figure for January was conceivably distorted by the difference in timing of the Lunar New Year, which fell in mid-February this year but late January last year.

"The business environment of the retail trade will still be difficult in the near term as the epidemic continues to pose a threat and inbound tourism remains frozen. As such, it is pivotal to contain the epidemic. If the Covid-19 vaccination programme yields the intended results, it should help lay a firm foundation for the revival of the retail sector and a broader based recovery of the economy later in the year."

PwC had estimated that retail sales in January will reach HK$32.5 billion, down around 14 percent compared to a year ago, while February will see a 36 percent increase in sales year-on-year to HK$31 billion, due to the Lunar New Year factor.

To boost consumption, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has said that electronic coupons worth HK$5,000 will be issued to 7.2 million Hongkongers.

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