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Covid-19 brings heavy drop in Hong Kong retail sales in December

Hong Kong retail sales recorded another shocker month last December – with Covid-19 to blame. 

And the dire month helped the territory to record its biggest-ever year-on-year decline in sales in 2020.

Official data released Tuesday by the Census and Statistics Department showed a 13.2-per-cent decline compared with the same month in 2019 and following a more modest, adjusted fall of 4.1 per cent during November. 

A government spokesman blamed the widened decline in December on the fourth wave of the local epidemic and resulting social-distancing measures. 

For the whole 2020 year, retail sales fell by 24.3 per cent, reflecting the severe blow to consumer consumption-related activities caused by the epidemic.

For December, sales of food, alcoholic drinks and tobacco decreased by 14.3 per cent, the category making the single greatest impact on the overall figures. That was followed by department-store sales (down 18.3 per cent), jewellery, watches and clocks and valuable gifts (down 40.8 per cent), apparel (down 27.8 per cent), medicines and cosmetics (down 40.9 per cent), fuels (down 9.9 per cent), footwear and accessories (down 36.7 per cent), Chinese drugs and herbs (down 15.1 per cent), books, stationery and gifts (down 20 per cent), and optical shops (down 31.3 per cent).

The only categories recording positive growth were supermarket sales (up 11.7 per cent), electrical goods (up 21.7 per cent), and furniture and homewares (up 6.3 per cent).

The government spokesman predicted a continuing challenge for retailers amid frozen inbound tourism and the ongoing local epidemic. 

“It would thus be pivotal for the community as a whole to spare no effort to fight the virus and keep the epidemic under control at the soonest possible in order to foster the revival of retail business in particular and the overall economy at large.”

The quarter and the year

The CSD data showed the value and volume of Hong Kong retail sales rose by 3.2 per cent in the final quarter of 2020, compared with the preceding three months. 

For the whole year, sales were estimated at HKD326.5 billion or US$42.12 billion. That was down by 25.5 per cent in volume compared to 2019. 

The worst-performing categories were food, alcoholic drinks and tobacco (down 12.7 per cent), department-store sales (down 22.5 per cent), electrical goods (down 12.9 per cent), jewellery, watches and clocks, and valuable gifts (down 54 per cent), apparel (down 41.3 per cent), medicines and cosmetics (down 50 per cent), footwear and accessories (down 39.7 per cent), books, newspapers, stationery and gifts (down 29.9 per cent), Chinese drugs and herbs (down 26.1 per cent), and optical shops (down 32.8 per cent).

The only categories to post growth for the full year were supermarket sales, (up 9.7 per cent), and furniture and homewares (up 0.4 per cent).

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