The retail sector is bracing for a slowdown this year, industry representatives and analysts said yesterday as the government announced a 4.2 per cent rise in retail sales for November. The value of retail sales in November topped $15.8 billion, a year-on-year rise of 4.2 per cent but down from the 4.8 per cent increase recorded in October. For the first 11 months of last year, retail sales rose 6.8 per cent, a pace that would not be sustained, experts cautioned. Hong Kong Retail Management Association chairman Bankee Kwan Pak-hoo expects overall retail sales growth for this year will not exceed 5 per cent. Mr Kwan warned against over-estimating the impact of the widening of the individual visitor scheme to more mainland cities later this year, saying that spending by such visitors would only serve to sustain the retail sector, rather than propel it to new heights. '[But] local consumption of all types, including those of specialities, will experience good positive growth in 2006,' he said. David O'Rear, chief economist of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, said the slowdown in retail sales, which began in the third quarter of last year, was normal after 18 months of strong growth. Mr O'Rear predicts 5 per cent growth this year, although he said a lot would depend on the performance of the property market. He expects a rebound in sales of durable goods and solid growth in the food and beverage sector. The November rise in retail sales was a more modest 3.6 per cent in terms of volume - which discounts the effect of price changes. This compares with a 3.7 per cent increase in October. Sales of fuel - petrol and diesel, LPG for domestic use, and charcoal - grew the fastest in volume, at 8.3 per cent. In contrast, sales of furniture and fixtures, and jewellery, watches, clocks and valuable gifts fell for the second successive month, by 6.6 per cent and 3.4 per cent respectively. The government said the steady increase in retail sales indicated consumer demand should stay firm this year. 'Consumer sentiment might have turned more cautious more recently in the face of the interest rate rises and the consolidation of the property market,' a government spokesman said. 'But the rise in workers' income, the optimistic economic and employment outlook, as well as the continued expansion of inbound tourism, should continue to provide support to retail sales.'