Hong Kong retail sales fell by 5.7 per cent in February.
But when the sales data for January and February are combined – eliminating the distortion caused by the timing of Lunar New Year – the decline is a more modest 3.6 per cent over the two months.
The Census and Statistics Department provisionally estimated the value of retail sales in February at HK$34.8 billion. It revised its estimate for January to a decline of 1 per cent year-on-year.
For the first two months of 2017 taken together, the value of retail sales decreased by 3.2 per cent compared with the same period in 2016, a figure similar to that for the fourth quarter of last year.
A government spokesman said the retail sector’s performance was still constrained by the lack of growth in tourist spending despite the modest recovery of visitor arrivals in recent months.
“Looking ahead, the performance of retail sales will depend on the recovery pace of inbound tourism as well as whether consumer sentiment will be affected by the various external uncertainties,” the spokesperson said.
“At present, local consumer sentiment remains well underpinned by the prevailing favourable job and income conditions.”
After netting out the effect of price changes over the same period, the provisional estimate of the volume of total retail sales in February 2017 decreased by 6.1 per cent year-on-year.
Supporting comments from several watch and jewellery retailers in recent weeks, it appears the long-running decline for that sector has tapered off. The category recorded a mere 1.2 per cent decline in sales in January-February combined, the smallest decline of any category in negative territory.
Electrical goods and photographic equipment plunged 23.6 per cent, while supermarket sales fell 3.5 per cent and department store sales by 1.6 per cent.
Apparel sales fell 6.9 per cent, footwear and accessories by 6.5 per cent and furniture by 5.4 per cent.
Cosmetics was the major improver by category, rising 2.7 per cent. Optical goods sales rose 1.4 per cent and food, alcohol and tobacco by 1.4 per cent.
The C&SD used combined figures for the two months rather than February figures on their own, to provide a fair year-on-year comparison.
“Retail sales tend to show greater volatility in the first two months of a year due to the timing of the Lunar New Year. Consumer spending in the local market normally attains a seasonal high before the festival. As the Lunar New Year fell on January 28 this year but on February 8 last year, it is more appropriate to analyse the retail sales figures for January and February taken together in making year-on-year comparison.”