Business

Retails sales fall 1.8% to $3.6 billion in July

Figures better than expected but improvement not broad-based, says observer

Retail sales declined for a sixth consecutive month in July amid weak consumer sentiment in a slowing economy.

Overall takings fell 1.8 per cent compared with July last year, although an increase in motor vehicle sales took some of the sting out.

If these sales are excluded, takings would be down 2.4 per cent year on year according to data released by the Department of Statistics yesterday. The figures were better than the 2.9 per cent fall tipped in a Bloomberg poll and far better than the 8.9 per cent tumble in June.

Ms Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank, said that while the retail figures were better than expected, the improvement was not broad-based. She said: "Most of the retail segments are still underperforming, and the overall picture compared with a year ago is still softer."

The overall growth picture across sectors is still lacklustre, Ms Ling said, noting that July's retail figures were supported by the "volatile" motor vehicles segment.

Furniture and household equipment sales saw the sharpest decline of 8.3 per cent, while computer and telecommunications equipment takings fell 7.7 per cent.

The watches and jewellery sector shrank 6.2 per cent over July last year. Recreational goods sales were down 4.9 per cent.

Maybank Kim Eng economist Lee Ju Ye said: "Consumer sentiments still seem to be weighed down by the slowing economy and weakening labour market, as evidenced by the steeper decline in discretionary items such as watches and jewellery, recreational goods and computer and telecommunications equipment."

Food retailers, which sell food and drink generally not meant for immediate consumption, posted a 1.1 per cent drop in turnover while department stores sales shrank 3.6 per cent.

On a more positive note, aside from motor vehicle sales, the supermarkets and hypermarkets segment posted a 0.9 per cent increase in takings, while medical goods and toiletries were up 1.9 per cent.

Food and beverage services takings rose 3.2 per cent compared with July last year, with all segments posting an increase.

Fast-food outlets recorded the largest growth of 5.8 per cent, followed by food caterers with 4 per cent.

The estimated total retail sales value in July was $3.6 billion, with online making up an estimated 5.6 per cent of this.

Ms Lee said retail sales will likely stay muted for the rest of the year, though there are supporting factors such as improving visitor arrival numbers.

"Singapore seems to be seeing some diversion of tourists from the Hong Kong crisis, which could lend some support to retail sales," she said.

BUSINESS & FINANCE