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Singapore retail sales surge 54% in April after store closures during last year's circuit breaker period

Singapore retail sales surge 54% in April after store closures during last year's circuit breaker period

People shopping at a pet supplies store. (File photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: Singapore's retail sales surged 54 per cent in April from the same period last year, when the country first entered a "circuit breaker" period to curb the spread of COVID-19, according to official data released on Friday (Jun 4).

Retail sales growth in April was also a jump from March's 6.3 per cent increase, according to the Department of Statistics (SingStat).

During the circuit breaker from Apr 7 to Jun 2 last year, most workplaces and all non-essential services were closed to curb the spread of the virus.

Retail sales plummeted about 40 per cent in April last year after the COVID-19 measures were implemented.

Retail sales have now risen for three consecutive months, although SingStat said they continue to remain below pre-COVID-19 levels.

Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales rose 39.2 per cent in April this year, compared with a 4.5 per cent growth in March.

READ: Singapore maintains 2021 GDP forecast at 4% to 6% due to 'heightened uncertainties' from COVID-19

BIGGEST JUMP SINCE 1985

UOB economist Barnabas Gan noted that April's one-year jump was the largest since data was available in 1985.

"Year-on-year growth has stayed positive for three straight months despite the absence of tourism-led demand, thus underlining that domestic demand was behind the robust recovery," said Mr Gan.

Looking ahead, Mr Gan said that retail demand in May and June will likely be negatively impacted by the recently implemented stricter social distancing measures, although it should still register positive year-on-year growth during those months.

This is in part due to a continued low-base effect last year in May (-51.6% year-on-year) and June (-27.6% year-on-year), he said.

"Retail sales should also recover further into the year ahead on the back of domestic demand, given the likelihood for further improvement of Singapore’s labour market in the second half of the year," said Mr Gan.

Mr Howie Lee, economist at OCBC Bank, added that while April's growth rate was a "mind-boggling" figure, it was also almost entirely due to the very low base from the circuit breaker last year.

"Recovery for the retail sector has continued to be in fits and starts – retail sales has contracted three times out of four since the start of 2021 on a month-on-month seasonally adjusted basis," he noted.

He said that he expects last year's low base for May and June to continue to bump up the retail sales growth rate for the rest of the second quarter, but also cautioned about the impact of the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures on seasonally adjusted month-on-month readings.

"Even if Singapore manages to return to Phase 3 as scheduled, the continued restrictions on movement as well as lack of tourist arrivals mean retail sales for the rest of 2021 will likely be sluggish," he said.

"SIGNIFICANT" GROWTH

Most retail industries posted "significant" year-on-year growth in April, except for supermarkets and hypermarkets, and minimarts and convenience stores, said SingStat.

Among the top performers were watch and jewellery sales, which rose 646.8 per cent, and wearing apparel and footwear sales, which expanded by 442.6 per cent.

Department store sales grew by 279.9 per cent, and motor vehicle sales by 261.3 per cent.

Petrol service stations, recreational goods and optical goods and books also saw sales double.

However, sales at supermarkets and hypermarkets shrank 30.2 per cent, while sales at minimarts and convenience stores fell 16.8 per cent in April.

This was due to higher sales of groceries last year when more people stayed at home during the circuit breaker, said SingStat.

(Table: SingStat)

MOST INDUSTRIES DECLINE MONTH-ON-MONTH

On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, retail sales fell 1.3 per cent in April compared with March. Excluding motor vehicles, the decline narrowed to 0.8 per cent.

Most retail industries recorded declines in sales compared to March.

Sales of optical goods and books, and computer and telecommunications equipment fell 9.7 per cent and 7.8 per cent respectively, mainly due to lower demand for books and mobile phones, said SingStat.

Sales of watches and jewellery, motor vehicles and furniture and household equipment also contracted.

In contrast, sales in the department stores, wearing apparel and footwear, and cosmetics, toiletries and medical goods industries rose between 3.3 per cent and 4.6 per cent.

The estimated total retail sales value in April was about S$3.3 billion, with about 11.2 per cent from online sales.

Excluding motor vehicles, total retail sales value was about S$2.8 billion, with online retail sales making up 13.3 per cent.

Online retail sales of computer and telecommunications equipment, furniture and household equipment, and supermarkets and hypermarkets made up 47.5 per cent, 24.4 per cent and 12.5 per cent of each industry's total sales respectively.

FOOD AND BEVERAGE SERVICES UP YEAR-ON-YEAR

Sales of food and beverage services also surged by 73.4 per cent in April because of the low base during last year's circuit breaker when dining-in was not allowed, said SingStat.

This too, however, continue to be below pre-pandemic levels, it added.

All food and beverage services industries saw "significant growth" except for food caterers, whose sales declined 31.7 per cent from a year ago, when there was higher demand for catered meals from migrant worker dormitories, said SingStat.

On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, food and beverage services sales fell 1.3 per cent in April.

Compared to March, sales across all the food and beverage services industries declined except for restaurants.

The total sales value of food and beverage services in April was about S$693 million, with online sales making up about 24.4 per cent.

(Table: SingStat)
Source: CNA/dv

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