Singapore retail sales fall broadly again in March, but decline eases

SINGAPORE retail sales dipped in March, with the decline broadly across the board, according to figures from the Department of Statistics (SingStat) on Friday.

Sales were down by 1 per cent on the year prior - or 1.5 per cent with motor vehicles excluded - for a value of S$3.8 billion altogether, with 5.3 per cent of transactions done online.

Still, the fall was gentler than the plunge charted in February - when sales slid by 9.9 per cent on an early Chinese New Year season - and beat private economists’ medianprediction of a 2.2 per cent fall, in a poll by Bloomberg.

Vendors selling take-away food and drinks saw their takings fall by 5.7 per cent, while computer and telecom equipment sales dropped by 4.9 per cent, and department stores’ receipts were down by 4.6 per cent on the same period the previous year.

Four categories notched mild year-on-year sales increases, led by medical goods and toiletries at 2.8 per cent, on more demand for cosmetics and toiletries. Car sales and supermarket takings were both up by 0.9 per cent, and the clothes and shoes segment saw marginalgrowth of 0.2 per cent.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, March retail sales were up by 1 per cent on the month before, but stayed flat on February once motor vehicles were stripped out.

Separately, food and beverage service sales inched up by 0.7 per cent year on year, to S$868 million - easing from the 2.2 per cent slide the month before.

The gains were spurred by the 6.1 per cent surge in fast food outlet takings and also helped by a 2.9 per cent rise at other types of eateries, such as cafes.

But restaurants posted a decline of 3.6 per cent on their annual takings.

Month on month, food and beverage receipts grew by 1.3 per cent, with the figures seasonally adjusted.

Save for a 7.6 per cent year-on-year jump in January, Singapore's retail sales have been lacklustre since October 2018.

But e-commerce will play an increasing role in Singapore's retail scene, suggested United Overseas Bank economist Barnabas Gan, who noted that online sales grew by 28 per cent year-on-year in March, up from 15.5 per cent the month before.

"The rise of online retail sales numbers is likely a silver lining to Singapore's overall retail sales industry," he said. "Moreover, we continue to see supportive domestic labour conditions, which in turn would underpin wage growth and income levels."

Still, Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank, struck a more bearish note and predicts a full-year contraction in the sector.

"Given the external economic uncertainties and somewhat fragile consumer sentiment, especially with the US-China trade tensions escalating, there may not be a quick turnaround in the retail sales picture anytime soon," she said, shrugging off the opening of the Jewel Changi Airport mega-complex in mid-April.