The Hong Kong Retail Management Association has re-adjusted sharply lower its forecast on retail sales for this year in the wake of deteriorating spending confidence. The association, which covers 5,000 outlets/retailers, forecast retail sales to drop 15 per cent this year against the estimate of a 10 per cent decline made at the beginning of this year. Chairman Philip Ma King-huen yesterday said a soaring redundancy rate, widespread salary reductions and bonus cancellations had dealt a severe blow to spending confidence. Cars, clothes and department stores would be among the worst casualties, he said. 'According to the Government's latest figures, retail sales in September, which fell 22 per cent, reached the record low so far this year. 'I don't think the market will do any better in the last quarter,' he said. He warned of an unprecedented difficult operating environment between Christmas and Lunar New Year, a period regarded as prime spending season. He pointed out that the unemployment rate - at 5.5 per cent last month, the highest in the past 22 years - put extra pressure on consumer confidence. To help alleviate the plight of retailers, the association wrote to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in October and called for the Government's assistance. 'So far, Mr Tung promised to consider seriously putting our recommendations into next year's budget. We'll wait and see what he is going to offer,' Mr Ma said. Recommendations include raising personal tax allowance by 10 per cent for one year and lowering interest rates to boost spending. The association said the Government should also suspend approving new retail spaces to reduce competition. Mr Ma said the association was strongly opposed to retailers offering prolonged discounts below cost, which would impede the recovery of struggling market players and trigger more closures.