Mainland Lunar New Year spending up 15 per cent
Businesses ring up healthy sales, but growth is slightly slower than in previous two years as austerity measures targeting officials hit home
Bloomberg and Zhuang Pinghui
The Lunar New Year holiday has again proved a boon for shops and restaurants, which saw business rise 15 per cent on last year.
Ministry of Commerce figures show spending of 539 billion yuan (HK$665 billion) for the holiday period. Sales of groceries were up nearly 10 per cent, jewellery sales rose 38 per cent and garment sales rose more than 6 per cent, the ministry said.
The Lunar New Year "golden week" is the busiest buying season of the year, when shoppers splash out on everything from beauty products to lavish family dinners.
But this year's overall growth slowed from a 16 per cent increase last year and a 19 per cent gain in 2011. Meanwhile Xinhua said the national anti-extravagance campaign dampened sales at high-end restaurants.
The ministry said the catering business was seeing a trend towards more modest dining, with spending dropping at high-end hotels, restaurants and wine shops.
Bookings at top-class hotels in Zhejiang province dropped more than 20 per cent, but restaurants catering to more mass-market customers saw strong growth in regions including Shanghai, Tianjin , Hubei and Henan .
"The slower growth, manifested in the restaurant business, was partly a result of the government crackdown on corruption and the anti-waste campaign," said Leon Zhao, a Shanghai-based analyst at research firm Frost & Sullivan.
"We expect overall retail sales and consumption to keep rising along with the improving economy in the second and third quarters."
Produce and meat prices were "relatively stable" during the holiday, the Ministry of Commerce said.
The price of pork gained 0.9 per cent, mutton rose 1.9 per cent, beef 1.3 per cent and a basket of 18 vegetables 0.6 per cent.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Security said transportation safety across the country in the past week had been "generally stable" and traffic on national and provincial-level highways had run smoothly.
An estimated 400 million passengers made long-distance bus or ferry journeys in the past week and 6.42 million travelled by plane.
More than 100 million have taken long-distance trains since January 26, when the Lunar New Year travel period started.
Road deaths were down by almost half, and injuries by 55 per cent, over the same holiday period last year.
There were no major traffic accidents with more than 10 deaths, the Ministry of Public Security said.
There were more than 6,500 fires across the mainland, which claimed 36 lives, injured 11 and caused property losses of 58 million yuan. Most of the blazes were attributed to fireworks.
Xinhua said 313,000 cartons of fireworks were sold in Beijing city from February 9 to 14, down 45 per cent from last year.
Sanitation workers in Beijing have cleared 5,283 tonnes of fireworks refuse during the holiday, a drop of 332 tonnes from the same period last year, according to official statistics.