Singapore retail sales rise 7.6% in January

RETAIL sales in Singapore were up 7.6 per cent year on year in January, recovering from December's 5.8 per cent slump, according to a Department of Statistics (Singstat) statement on Tuesday.

January's total retail sales takings were about S$4.2 billion, with online retail sales making up 4.8 per cent. The rise in sales was broad-based, with motor vehicles seeing the biggest increase of 20 per cent, which Singstat attributed partly to that month's Singapore Motorshow event. Excluding motor vehicles, January's sales were up 5.3 per cent year on year.

Higher demand during January's pre-Chinese New Year festive season also contributed to sales growth of between 8 per cent and 10.5 per cent for apparel and footwear, medical goods and toiletries, department stores, supermarkets and hypermarkets, and food retailers.

OCBC Bank head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling noted that January's year-on-year growth was the highest since February 2018, which also coincided with the Chinese New Year festive season.

Doubts remain over the question of whether the retail sector is finally emerging from its slump, she added, noting that the festive spike in February 2018 did not last. "The key to watch would be if retail sales can sustain in positive growth territory in the coming months or if it will quickly reverse back into the doldrums post-CNY, which is actually a high possibility given the high base in February 2018."

Seeing modest increases in growth of between 0.9 per cent and 5.2 per cent in January were watches and jewellery, mini-marts and convenient stores, furniture and household equipment, and recreational goods. Petrol service station sales growth was flat at 0.1 per cent.

In contrast, computer and telecommunications equipment sales fell 11.5 per cent, due partly to lower demand for mobile phones. It was one of only two categories to see a year-on-year sales decrease, with optical goods and books also down 1.6 per cent.

Food and beverage services were up 5.9 per cent year on year at S$862 million, though this was down 2.1 per cent from December. Fast food outlets, food caterers and restaurants saw year-on-year sales growth of between 7.5 per cent and 10.8 per cent, though other eating places such as cafes saw growth of just 1.8 per cent.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, retail sales edged up 0.2 per cent month on month in January. Excluding motor vehicles, however, they were down 1.5 per cent from December.

UOB economist Barnabas Gan sees January's figures as likely to be seasonally driven. Still, barring a negative turn in United States-China trade talks or worse-than-expected Chinese growth, he expects supportive domestic labour market conditions to underpin wage growth and income levels. With tourist receipts and arrivals also expected to grow, these factors should support retail sales growth of 3-5 per cent in 2019, he said.