Hong Kong retail sales rise for second consecutive month, but by just 0.1 per cent

Retail Management Association chairman forecasts possible 1 per cent rise in sales for whole year

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 June, 2017, 5:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 June, 2017, 11:14pm

Hong Kong’s retail sales rebounded slightly in April for the second straight month following a two-year period of contraction, with an industry expert predicting that growth for the whole year could hit 1 per cent.

The latest figures released by the Census and Statistics Department yesterday showed that total retail sales in April edged up 0.1 per cent year on year to HK$35.2 billion.

That was drastically lower than the 3 per cent rise confirmed for March – which ended a 25-month slump dating back to February 2015.

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Looking at the figures for April, consumer durables recorded the biggest year-on-year decline of 12.8 per cent. The dip was fuelled by an 18 per cent plunge in sales of electronic goods and photographic equipment.

Motor vehicle sales also fell in April, by 13.9 per cent, in stark contrast to a 16 per cent rise the previous month spurred by a last-minute buying spree for electric cars ahead of the cancellation of a tax waiver for the vehicles.

Retail Management Association chairman Thomson Cheng Wai-hung said sales of jewellery and luxury watches would also remain sluggish.

“We don’t see any trend pointing to [the sale of] these expensive items picking up at any time,” he said.

Setting aside these negatives, Cheng said the April figures were quite positive, with most categories recording modest growth.

The exception was supermarket sales, which dropped 0.6 per cent.

“A lot of Hongkongers travelled overseas during the Easter and Ching Ming holidays ... This affected livelihood-related sales,” Cheng said.

Asked if the Labour Day holiday – known in mainland China as the “golden week” – would lead to better figures for May, Cheng said association members who responded to a survey on sales over that period were mostly disappointed.

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The likely visit of President Xi Jinping for the July 1 handover anniversary would also turn some mainland visitors away due to the inconvenience caused by tight security measures, he said.

We cannot guarantee there will be growth this year, but we see the market starting to stabilise
Thomson Cheng, Retail Management Association chairman

But for the whole year, the association forecast the value of sales would remain the same as last year, give or take 1 per cent.

“We cannot guarantee there will be growth this year, but we see the market starting to stabilise,” Cheng said.

If local demand, which accounts for 70 per cent of all sales, remains robust, a rebound of inbound visitors would translate into a positive sales outlook, he said.

Statistics from the Tourism Board showed that visitor arrivals in April picked up 1.9 per cent year on year, and 3.2 per cent for the first four months of the year.

The recent growth provided much-needed relief to the tourism industry, which last year weathered a 4.5 per cent drop in inbound visitors.

A government spokesman said the near-term outlook depended on how fast the tourism sector recovered and local consumer sentiment amid likely US interest rate rises and external uncertainties.