SLUGGISH retail sales have taken a toll on major credit card issuing banks, which have been affected by reduced spending and lower card loans. Citibank's general manager for global consumer banking, Tim Kelley, said the bank's credit card receivables had grown at a much slower pace in the past few months. 'The stagnant growth in retail sales has definitely affected our credit card business,' he said. Hang Seng Bank said the spending habits of its card holders indicated the slowdown was particularly acute in the catering and fashion sectors. 'The amount of new charge and loan outstanding have declined since the Lunar New Year,'said William Leung, head of the bank's credit card centre. New charge refers to the amount card holders spend by using the credit cards. Loan outstanding is the unpaid portion of the credit card bill on which interest will be charged. On average, these two amounts fell by at least three per cent, Mr Leung said. 'That means people spend less and borrow less from the bank,' he said. The biggest fall in card spending, he said, was recorded in February, while March and April were only slightly better than February. Banks, in response, had to come up with programmes to stimulate spending, he said. 'Another way to offset the impact is to issue more cards and to expand the merchants' network,' Mr Leung said. He said increased volume would maintain profitability at a time when most stores were slashing prices to promote sales. Standard Chartered Bank said it had felt less of the pinch as it was embarking on an aggressive publicity campaign on new benefits. 'People have more than one card now. It depends on how to entice the customers to spend with the card you want,' said Sylvia de la Cruz, manager of Standard Chartered's card centre.