Retail rents in 16 major cities in the Asia-Pacific region grew sluggishly in the first quarter as a weakening global economy dampened consumer confidence. The Asia-Pacific Prime Rental Index compiled by property consultant CBRE, which monitors 16 major markets excluding Japan, showed these cities recorded 0.4 per cent growth in the first quarter. But this was slightly better than the 0.1 per cent growth in the fourth quarter of last year. CBRE believes the slow growth was caused by the caution exercised by domestic retailers as they pulled back from expansion amid the uncertain economic outlook. Retail rents in Hong Kong grew 1.9 per cent, but the rate of growth continued to slow. In the fourth quarter of last year, rents rose 3.3 per cent. 'International brands remain interested in expanding in Hong Kong, but they have turned cautious and are no longer willing to pay premium rent for prime locations,' said Joe Lin, senior director of retail services at CBRE. He said this was because retailers were finding purchases by mainland visitors had slowed since the Lunar New Year in January. A CBRE report found the pace of expansion slowed in key markets due to limited retail space in prime areas and as retailers turned more cautious towards opening new stores. Retail sales growth slowed to 11.6 per cent year on year in the first quarter, from the 13.7 per cent year-on-year growth recorded in the fourth quarter of 2011. Rents in major mainland cities including Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou recorded a combined 0.9 per cent growth in the first quarter, thanks to the sustained demand from international retailers. CBRE expects rental growth to ease further in most Asia-Pacific markets as a slowing global economy forces consumers to cut back on discretionary spending. Rents in Hong Kong's prime shopping sites are expected to grow this year as a result of the sustained demand from international brands, but it will be slower than last year. But another property consultant, DTZ, said it expected overall retail rents in Hong Kong to continue to rise steadily in the second quarter on the back of the rising number of mainland visitors and higher tourist spending.