Hong Kong: Retail sales surge in January due to seasonal holiday effects and high tourist inflows
Retail sales by volume rose 6.9% in annual terms in January, rebounding from December’s near flat growth of 0.1%. The surge was largely due to holiday purchases related to the Lunar New Year, which fell on 5 February this year instead of on 16 February last year—and will thus distort retail sales statistics for January and February. Looking at the details, the print was led by a surge in department store sales, as well as strong sales of luxury products; food, alcohol and tobacco (excluding supermarket sales); and other consumer goods, such as books and cosmetics.
On a seasonally-adjusted, three-month-moving-average basis, retail sales volume in the November–January period fell 2.1% from the preceding three-month period ending in October. The decline was markedly more pronounced than the 0.8% fall recorded in the October–December period.
Lastly, annual average variation in retail sales volume came in at 8.3% in the 12 months up to January, up from 7.9% in December.
Commenting on the January reading and the short-term outlook, a government spokesperson noted that:
“Retail sales increased notably in January 2019 over a year earlier, partly lifted by the earlier arrival of the Lunar New Year this year and partly by the surge in visitor arrivals in that month. Yet, given the distortion by the difference in timing of the Lunar New Year, it would therefore be more meaningful to examine the retail sales figures for January and February combined, when available, to ascertain the underlying trend. […] In the near term, the outlook for retail sales business is still subject to uncertainty. While the full employment situation in the local labour market and the sustained expansion in inbound tourism should provide support, consumption sentiment will still be affected by the unsteady external environment.”