Hong Kong retail sales finally return to growth

Hong Kong retail sales grew by 3.1 per cent year-on-year in March, ending some two years of continuous monthly declines.

A government spokesman conservatively described the improvement as “moderate”.

“This reflected partly the continued recovery of visitor arrivals and partly the robust local consumption demand that was underpinned by the favourable job and income conditions.” the spokesman said.

Coming after two months of decline, the recovery was enough to reduce the sales deficit for the first quarter to 1.3 per cent.

The Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) provisionally estimated total sales for the month at $35.7 billion.

After netting out the effect of inflation over the same period, the C&SD provisionally estimated March sales rose 2.7 per cent year-on-year. The revised estimate of the combined volume of total retail sales in January and February 2017 decreased by 3.6 per cent, while for the first quarter, retail sales decreased by 1.7 per cent (after adjusting for price changes).

The jewellery, watches and valuable gifts category – which has led a decimation of the territory’s  retail statistics for more than two years, showed a solid 8.4 per cent rebound by value.

Apparel rose 2.5 per cent, supermarket sales by 2.6 per cent, medicines and cosmetics by 3.5 per cent, food, liquor and tobacco by 2.9 per cent, books by 5 per cent and Chinese drugs and herbs 6.8 per cent. Department stores posted an essentially static result, down by 0.1 per cent.

Motor vehicle sales rose 16 per cent which may have had a modest impact on traditional retail sales.

Sales of electrical goods and cameras fell 17.9 per cent in March, optical shops by 2 per cent, furniture by 0.4 per cent and footwear and accessories by 4.5 per cent.  

The government spokesman said the near-term outlook for retail sales will continue to depend on the recovery pace of inbound tourism as well as how “various external uncertainties will unfold and shape local economic sentiment down the road”.

March’s rise contradicts a prediction from the HKRMA which said its members expected a “low single-digit drop” in March sales.

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