Lunar calendar hits Hong Kong retail sales

Official figures for January Hong Kong retail sales show a dramatic dive – but the figures alone do not tell the true story.

According to Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department figures released today (March 3), total retail sales in January are provisionally estimated at HK$46.6 billion – down 14.6 per cent on the same month in 2014.

But, as the department warns in its notes, retail sales tend to show greater volatility in the first two months of any year due to the timing of Lunar New Year.

“Local consumer spending normally attains a seasonal high immediately before the festival. As the Lunar New Year fell on February 19 this year but on January 31 last year, the year-on-year comparison of the figures for January 2015 with those for January 2014 might have been affected by this factor to a certain extent,” the department warned in a veritable understatement.

“As such, it would be more meaningful to examine the retail sales figures for January and February combined for a clearer picture of the underlying trend, when available.”

The department said that after netting out the effect of price changes over the 12 months, the volume of total retail sales in January 2015 decreased by 13.9 per cent from a year earlier.

By broad retail type, in descending order of value of sales and with year-on-year comparisons: the value of sales of jewellery, watches and clocks, and valuable gifts decreased by 21.4 per cent. Apparel fell 12.8 per cent; supermarkets commodities by 13.1 per cent, department store commodities by 11.3%, medicines and cosmetics by 0.1 per cent,  food, alcohol and tobacco by 8.7 per cent, footwear and accessories by 19 per cent, books, newspapers, stationery and gifts by 3.3 per cent, Chinese drugs and herbs by 9.6 per cent and optical shops by 5.6 per cent.

Sales of electrical goods and photographic equipment increased by 1.3 per cent and furniture and fixtures by 5.9 per cent.

On a brighter note – and possibly giving some indication of the current sales trend when Lunar New Year’s impact can be excluded: based on the seasonally adjusted data, the value of total retail sales increased by 0.7 per cent in the three months ending January 2015 compared with the preceding three-month period, while the volume of total retail sales increased by 2.5 per cent.

The department explains that these statistics measure the sales receipts in respect of goods sold by local retail establishments and are primarily intended for gauging the short-term business performance of the local retail sector. They cover consumer spending on goods but not on services (such as those on housing, catering, medical care and health services, transport and communication, financial services, education and entertainment) which account for about 50 per cent of overall consumer spending.

A department spokesman said the near-term performance of retail sales will continue to hinge on the labour market conditions and inbound tourism growth.

“We also need to closely monitor the potential impacts on local consumption sentiment brought by various uncertainties in the external environment.”

More detailed statistics can be downloaded here.




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