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Hong Kong retail sales jump 20% in March

In this March 23, 2020 photo, a customer wears a face mask as a precautionary measure as she shops for wine in a shop in Hong Kong. (ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP)

Hong Kong retail sales in March jumped 20 percent year-on-year, continuing their upward trend since February, mostly due to “an exceptionally low base of comparison last year”, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Looking ahead, the near-term outlook for the retail trade is still challenging as inbound tourism remains in the doldrums

The value of total retail sales in March was estimated at HK$27.6 billion (US$3.55 billion), recording the second consecutive month of year-on-year growth, but down 6.5 percent compared with the previous month at HK$29.5 billion, as February sales got a boost from strong consumer demand during the Lunar New Year holiday.

The combined value of total sales in the first two months of 2021 edged up 2.7 percent compared with the same period in 2020, while quarterly sales volume climbed 7.2 percent year-on-year. However, it was “still far below that in the first quarter of 2019 by 32.5 percent,” the spokesman said.

“The increase is within our expectations due to a much lower base in March last year, which recorded a 44 percent slump in retail sales year-on-year,” said Annie Tse Yau On-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association.

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The hardest-hit sectors — including jewelry, watches and clocks; and wearing apparel — are seeing a stronger-than-ever rebound from the pandemic-battered economy, with retail sales surging 81 percent and 77.4 percent respectively. “The level of rebound is in line with its recession, but these sectors are still far below the pre-pandemic levels,” Tse said.

Looking ahead, the near-term outlook for the retail trade is still challenging as inbound tourism remains in the doldrums. This is despite the improvement in local consumption sentiment from shoppers due to the gradual relaxation of social distancing measures since mid-February, the spokesman said.

Echoing those remarks, Tse said the city’s retailing will largely remain unchanged unless one of two factors — Hong Kong’ macro economy and the border restrictions between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland — sees a substantial breakthrough. “Before that, not matter how much social distancing measures relax, the impact to the retail sector will be rather limited,” she added.

“The shopping sentiment from consumers remains sluggish as Hong Kong people are still reluctant to spend money amid the pandemic. I don’t see any huge improvement, but the long holiday could contribute to retailing’s performance in April as more people stayed in Hong Kong shopping this year.”

xinlanzeng@chinadailyhk.com